1 hour 56 minutes
In the charming but clumsy Capraesque fable Yesterday, Himesh Patel makes his feature debut as Jack, a down-on-his-luck musician who seemingly suffers another setback in the form of a biking accident.
He awakens to a world in which The Beatles seem to be wiped from existence. After performing a number of their now-original tunes, Jack quickly rises to music super-stardom. His meteoric rise to fame catches the attention of singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran (playing a version of himself) and his duplicitous manager Debra (Kate McKinnon), while putting a strain on his relationship with his best friend and manager Ellie (Lily James).
With an inspired what-if premise and buoyant timbre, the film starts off on the right note with a handful of humorous scenes that set the stage for a world devoid of the Fab Four’s presence.
When Jack plays “Yesterday” for the “first time” amongst a group of friends, he’s dumbfounded by their mixed response to what he views as “one of the greatest songs ever written.” Later, he attempts to treat his benevolent parents and their well-meaning friend to “Let It Be,” but the distractions of a ringing phone and persistent doorbell force him to repeatedly restart his rendition before he can even get to the chorus.
Of course, such a high-concept conceit inevitably inspires a barrage of follow-up questions. Love Actually screenwriter Richard Curtis doesn’t help things by investigating this ripple effect of removing The Beatles from history. A running joke finds Jack consulting Google for the existence or non-existence of certain things in this new world, where Coldplay and Radiohead somehow still came to be but Coke and cigarettes have since vanished. I would have been happy to suspend disbelief for the sake of the narrative, but Curtis’ constant compartmentalization of the Beatles’ cultural impact feels shallow and unnecessary.
At its core, this is a romantic comedy à la Notting Hill or Bridget Jones’s Diary (unsurprisingly, both written by Curtis) but the central relationship never fully takes hold. With her frizzy hair and frumpy clothes, Ellie is meant to be the love interest that Jack has overlooked since childhood, but it’s a bit of a stretch to think that he would keep someone this charming and supportive in the “friend zone” for so long.
Trapped inside an outdated and one-dimensional love story, Patel and James aren’t able to conjure up much chemistry on-screen, but it’s reasonable to think that a more dynamic screenplay could have produced some sparks between the two.
Except for a handful of Dutch angles, Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle keeps his trademark visual flourishes to a minimum in service of the other elements at play.
In this old-fashioned tale, one aspect that does feel refreshingly modern is the take on the evil manager trope by Kate McKinnon. As a comedically exaggerated foil who literally salivates over YouTube views, she sells silly lines like “Stop in the name of money!” with just the right amount of irony and self-awareness.
Yesterday is a perfectly pleasant riff on the legacy of rock’s most iconic and important band, but it misses the opportunity to dig a bit deeper.
Coming to theaters this weekend
Spider-Man: Far From Home, starring Tom Holland and Jake Gyllenhaal, brings the web-slinger back to a post-Endgame MCU where a new inter-dimensional threat emerges during a field trip to Europe.
Midsommar, starring Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor, follows a group of friends who travel to rural Sweden for an exclusive festival that slowly turns into a nightmarish ritual.
Playing at Cinema Center is Echo in the Canyon, a documentary that investigates the influence of music acts like The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, and The Byrds who emerged from the Laurel Canyon music scene in the 1960s.