Yesterday, 2019, 3 ¼ stars

Believe in Yesterday

Beatle fantasy is uneven yet enticing

Image copyright Universal Pictures / Working Title Films

From The Orlando Weekly, June 26, 2019

To borrow a phrase, Jack Malik is a real nowhere man, sitting in his nowhere land, which happens to be the seaside resort town of Clacton-on-Sea, England. Working as an underappreciated part-timer at a wholesale warehouse and struggling to write and perform music in his free time, Jack makes all his nowhere plans for nobody.

Bemoaning his failed music career, Jack tells his childhood friend Ellie, “If it hasn’t happened by now, it’s not going to. It would take a miracle.” That miracle is coming.

One evening while Jack is riding home on his bike, the globe experiences a freakish power outage. The electrical interruption goes unnoticed by Jack because he’s struck by an oncoming bus at the exact moment of the glitch. But despite a hospital visit and the loss of his front teeth, it’s not his physical health Jack is concerned about. Instead, it’s his mental and aesthetic well-being, as Jack soon discovers that, astonishingly, the recent power snafu has erased from existence the most cherished artistic entity of modern times: the Beatles. And he’s seemingly the only one who remembers them (along with Coca-Cola and cigarettes, the random disappearance of which inexplicably cheapens and complicates the film’s premise).

Directed by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire), from a script by Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill), Yesterday begins as a great Twilight Zone episode before lurching into an only somewhat successful combination of comedy, drama, fantasy and romance. Once Jack gets over the shock of his unlikely predicament, he is consumed by the awesome task of presenting to the world for the first time the music of the Fab Four. Predictably, fortune finds him while he simultaneously struggles with the trappings of fame – as did the Beatles themselves – and his own romantic feelings toward Ellie.

Yesterday is a competent realization of a brilliant concept, but it could have been more. It’s nice to see Boyle embrace whimsy over his usual grittiness, but the production often seems bloated, not to mention tonally challenged thanks to its genre-hopping. Still, it’s intermittently enticing, even endearing, helped along by great music and solid performances by Himesh Patel (EastEnders) as Jack, Lily James (Downton Abbey, Darkest Hour) as Ellie and Ed Sheeran as himself.

Providing broad comic relief are Joel Fry (Game of Thrones) as Jack’s friend and roadie, and Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live) as his money-grubbing manager. Fry is a mostly welcome addition, but McKinnon’s character is poorly conceived, badly written and abysmally acted. Shockingly, she does almost everything possible to sink an otherwise decent film, until a single, mind-bending scene near the end rescues the production from narrative drift and finally elevates it, if briefly, to a level of metaphysics and mysticism.

Yesterday, like the song by Paul McCartney, is about missed opportunities. Still, the movie never entirely wears out its wonderful premise because Boyle understands an essential truth uttered by one of the film’s mysterious supporting characters: “A world without the Beatles is a world that is infinitely worse.”

© 2019 Orlando Weekly / MeierMovies, LLC