From its trailer, the high concept of "Yesterday," (out June 28) a Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire," "Trainspotting") and Richard Curtis ("Love Actually") team-up about a man who discovers he's woken up in a world where The Beatles never existed, got people buzzing. Does the full film live up to its elevator pitch? Here's what the reviews have to say:
A Global Blackout And A Fateful Accident Trigger The Beatles' Erasure And Our Lead's Rise To Stardom
A struggling musician named Jack (Himesh Patel), still barely hanging onto his passion in life thanks to the unwavering support and encouragement from his best friend/manager Ellie (Lily James), gets hit by a bus and is knocked out on the night when all power mysteriously gets cut off across the globe for a minute. He wakes up in the hospital to a new reality where The Beatles never existed, and he's the only one on the planet who remembers their songs.
Jack scrambles to memorize as many Beatles lyrics as he can recall[…] Eventually, with the help of Ed Sheeran (who appears as a version of himself) and this faux Sheeran's faux manager, Debra (an overwound Kate McKinnon), Jack becomes a huge star by performing songs he didn't write and passing them off as his own.
The Film Doesn't Explore No-Beatles World To The Fullest…
It's very intriguing early on when Jack plays Beatles songs at coffee-shop gigs, and nobody even looks over. The music has zero impact on these people. What if things had developed so differently in the Beatles' absence that people would have no idea what they were missing, and, frankly, wouldn't care, because how can you miss what you've never had?
Here my inner pedant will not shut up: What if the popularity of the Beatles' music was as much a product of a specific time and set of circumstances as the music itself? What if, on first hearing "Yesterday," Jack's friends took it for an obscure Mumford & Sons B-side?
Only toward the end, when the implications of a world without the Beatles are taken to a wild and unexpected extreme, does Yesterday briefly hint at the sort of film it could have been beyond this fluffiest of musical tributes.
… Instead, It Quickly Veers To Well-Tread Rom-Com Tropes
In true genre fashion, Jack and Ellie have had feelings for one another for a decade, but never acted up on them until Jack gets snatched away to tour the globe, leaving him to decide whether or not he should pursue his career or choose Ellie. The plot points are expected, but Curtis' sharp dialogue and the palpable chemistry between Patel and James should satisfy those looking for that Notting Hill or Love Actually feeling.
Everyone in the audience can surely agree that Jack and Ellie should get together, but no obstacle is more narratively inert than an argument over why they haven't. Curtis, it seems, can't resist leaning on his old formulas even when he tries to branch out, and that tendency ends up doing Yesterday a disservice.
Luckily, Himesh Patel & Lily James Are Natural Charmers
Patel and James are extremely likable, together and separately; you want to see them get together. In fact, you want it so badly, you find it hard to believe it didn't happen years earlier. We're asked to believe the fiction in which the stunning, kind, unselfish woman pines away for the cute but clueless guy who, conveniently, doesn't appear to be interested in dating or sleeping with anyone, even after he becomes a star.
It's a shame, because Patel deserves all of the recognition that Jack doesn't. Not only does he sound exactly like a young Paul McCartney when he sings, but he radiates charisma in a way that makes him easier to believe as a superstar than it is as a school teacher. James, a brilliant singer who's become the secret weapon of every movie she's in, never even gets a crack at a duet.
James acts the hell out of a stale patient-love-interest role, the kind of part that requires dutiful patience and a speech about choosing love over fame. Not much you can do with lines like "I'll always just be Ellie with the frizzy hair," really.
Danny Boyle's Direction Helps Some, But Don't Expect The Heights Of 'Yesterday' To Match Even His So-So Efforts
Every time Jack plays a Beatles song, Boyle is asking the audience to imagine they're hearing it for the first time, and some of the film's reinterpretations evoke the goosebumps he's looking for. Boyle has long excelled at injecting music-video surrealism into his feature films, from the kinetic Trainspotting to the symphonic Steve Jobs. Wherever he forgets the arcane setup of Curtis's script and lets the extremely charming Patel belt out the classics, Yesterday succeeds.
Danny Boyle, flexing his Millions muscle, builds what may be the optimal delivery system for what transpires to be cut-rate material. It avoids the close-proximity shooting style of TV sitcoms, and Boyle really does his best to make sure that every gag has an odds-on chance of landing. The impression is that there was no single-take improv here – the scenes, the lines and the delivery were repeated until they worked.
Thing is, as shiny and well-polished as Yesterday ends up looking in Boyle's hands, his style doesn't necessarily add any substance to its overarching narrative.
Missed Opportunities Abound In 'Yesterday'
Despite having the elements for an unusual star-is-born saga that flirts with potentially fascinating aspects of authorship and maybe the most epic case of imposter syndrome ever diagnosed, "Yesterday" is nothing more than a classic story about some dumb boy chasing his chintzy dream instead of recognizing the reality that's been staring him in the face the whole time.
While I typically cringe at critics attempting to provide a new plot to a movie rather than judging the film on its own merits, the wastefulness of Yesterday is undeniable and unavoidable. As you watch the protagonist churn out Beatles songs as his own, you see that Yesterday has no love for The Beatles, their impact, or even music. It's a story about love and fame, and The Beatles are merely a means to an end.
Even Ed Sheeran Deserves A More Interesting Take On The Fictionalized Version Of Himself Than The Movie Provides
Sheeran is great in an unexpectedly significant role, hostile but helpful as the self-described Salieri to Jack's Mozart, but he's no substitute for legible character growth.
The concept of Sheeran as a Salieri-esque figure consumed by Jack's apparent genius is a devilishly funny one, but even when playing an exaggerated version of himself, the musician is too flat and friendly to sell the role.
It Can Play The Hits Quite Well, But It Leaves You Wondering If The Filmmakers Really *Get* The Beatles
I guess I'm as much as a Beatles fan as the next person, insofar as I sung along to their music when I was a kid, sought deeper meaning in their weird period during dazed college days, and now frequently turn to the Beatles Sirius XM radio station when there's nothing else on the hundred other channels. So I appreciated the songbook quality of Yesterday, and found something profoundly disquieting in its drugless, sexless version of the Beatles.
The Beatles were larger than life, but at least part of their greatness was built on subtlety. That's a language Yesterday doesn't understand, even though it spends a great deal of time mouthing the words.
I'm sure the filmmakers have a good reason for taking the easy way out, but "Yesterday" is more of a novelty earworm than a classic. It's appealing and accessible in a way that the Beatles never really were. If it took itself — and them — a bit more seriously, it would be a lot more fun. But it wasn't made to last.
Yesterday is the cinematic equivalent of people whose favorite Beatles album is 1. You could make pretty much the same movie if Jack woke up into a world where only he remembered advertising jingles and became a successful ad executive.
Yesterday is a fluffy and ultimately half-baked 'What if?' fantasy that partially gets by on its zestful storytelling and endearing performances.