The Beatles deserved better than Yesterday.
Despite the indelible song catalogue that fills the movie from beginning to end, director Danny Boyle has delivered a music industry fable that reduces the audience’s intelligence to embarrassing lows.
The story of the film’s hero, John Malik (dependably played by Himesh Patel) surprisingly starts off fresh. For 10 years, and with little to show, he has dragged his guitar and singer-songwriter aspirations to every boardwalk, café, and street corner in his British hometown. His friends and manager (a misused Lily James) remain his one true constant, cheering him on when others merely turn their heads away.
One day, defeated and depressed, John’s fortunes take a dramatic, cosmic turn. Upon being hit by a bus while cycling, planet earth seems to take notice, simultaneously going completely dark for 12 seconds, inexplicably resetting itself to the crescendo of A Day In The Life.
Out of the hospital, and now bruised and missing his two front teeth, John therapeutically strums his guitar to his friends, serenading them with the first song that pops into his head: Yesterday.
Moved to tears, they’re convinced it’s his own creation, vehemently agreeing it’s the first time they’ve all heard it. Confused beyond belief, John races home, rabidly searching The Beatles on Google. It seems they never existed. Same goes for Oasis, too. Jack doesn’t look back.
There’s a lot more to the story than that, of course. However, as well intentioned as screenwriter Richard Curtis (Notting Hill, Love Actually) and director Boyle had hoped for the film, the concept is stretched far too thin.
Before long, Jack is the hottest thing in pop, claiming the Beatles songs as his own. In the film’s best scene, Ed Sheeran (playing himself) has discovered Jack’s music and has asked him to join his world tour.
Backstage one night, Ed proposes a competition of sorts – “Whoever can write the best song in 5 minutes is deemed the best songwriter.” As Ed painfully discovers, no one stands a chance against a Lennon/McCartney compostion.
Speaking of painful, the film’s entire second half – apart from selling the Beatles to the masses – devotes an inordinate amount of time to a would-be romance involving Jack and his long-time friend and manager, Ellie. Sweet as it may be, the chemistry just doesn’t gel, coming off as artificial and juvenile when it should be tougher and sexier.
Even worse, Jack’s piranha manager Debra, played by Kate McKinnon, is the obnoxious equivalent to nails on a chalk board. With every sentence cranked to 11, her overstayed screen time becomes agonizing, bringing the film to a screeching halt.
Nevertheless, beneath the slap-dashed industry scenes and laughably saccharine attempts at love,Yesterday has the Beatles music at its centre. Too bad the greatness of those songs never rub off on the film it’s ulitmately playing for.