(2019) (Himesh Patel, Lily James) (PG-13)
- QUICK TAKE:
- Romantic Comedy: Following a weird worldwide glitch, a struggling singer-songwriter discovers that the Beatles never existed and must then contend with the aftermath of passing off their songs as his.
- Jack Malik (HIMESH PATEL) is a 27-year-old man who lives in Suffolk, England, works in a warehouse store, and gave up his teaching gig in hopes of making it as a singer-songwriter. But beyond his long-time manager, roadie and only true supporter, Ellie Appleton (LILY JAMES), pretty much everyone knows he's probably not going to be successful, including his parents, Jed & Sheila (SANJEEV BHASKAR & MEERA SYAL). Even Jack realizes that and says it will take a miracle for him to keep trying.
He gets that one night when a worldwide, 12-second power glitch results in him being distracted by the sudden outage and biking right into the path of an oncoming bus. When he wakes up, he's missing two front teeth, but the world is missing any knowledge of The Beatles, as if they never existed. After confirming this, Jack decides to take the opportunity to pass their songs off as his, eventually resulting in a young producer, Gavin (ALEXANDER ARNOLD), recording some of those songs. By giving those out for free, Jack ends up on a local TV show and is seen by none other than famous musician Ed Sheeran (ED SHEERAN) who asks him to join him on a tour as his opening act.
With Ellie unable to come along due to her teaching job, Jack asks his quirky roadie friend Rocky (JOEL FRY) to fill in. Soon, Jack and his songs are a worldwide sensation, prompting Ed's straight-shooting but ruthless manager, Debra Hammer (KATE McKINNON), to bring him on board and start molding him to become the next big thing in music. But as all of that happens, Jack not only can't shake the nagging feeling of passing someone else's work off as his own, but also that he might have made a mistake letting Ellie slip through his fingers as a romantic interest.
- OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
- I have no idea if the show still exists or airs somewhere in the world, but back when I was growing up "Name That Tune" might not have been my favorite game show, but it did have a very easy to identify concept. I might not remember all of the exact parameters and rules, but in short, contestants competed to identify popular songs by the least number of opening notes in the music.
Maybe it's because they were too popular at the time or perhaps the rights were too expensive, but I don't recall ever hearing a Beatles song on the show. Of course, it's been well-documented that some of their songs are the most widely recognized from just the opening note, and thus, perhaps, it would have been too easy.
Or maybe I was watching the show that somehow made it onto our TV from an alternate reality where the Beatles never existed. Not including that particular game show, that's the high concept idea behind "Yesterday," an offering from the writer of "Love Actually" (among others) and the director of "Slumdog Millionaire" (ditto) that had me from the opening moments of the fabulous trailer back when it debuted.
When done well, high concept based movies are hard to beat. After all, they're super easy to understand (and to market to viewers) and usually elicit responses such as "That's a brilliant idea" to "I can't wait to see that" from moviegoers. I had both reactions from the trailer and thus this ended up being my most anticipated release of the summer.
While it might not completely live up to my lofty expectations, I'm happy to report that it's nonetheless enjoyable, charming and pretty much entertaining for the duration of its nearly two-hour running time. Could it have been better? Possibly. Would I, as a screenwriter, have taken it in different directions once the premise was established? Probably. But I don't know that I would have been able to make viewers feel like they're experiencing the Beatles music for the first time, and that's what somehow, near miraculously and against all odds, occurs here.
In transparence, I've always been a big fan of the group, possibly because of my self-described affinity with them, what with having been born on the exact date they debuted on "The Ed Sullivan Show" so many moons ago. I have all of their albums and I know all of their songs, having listened to them repeatedly over the decades.
But could I recreate them only from memory and pass them off as my own should an odd twist of the universe present that as an option? That's the dilemma facing Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), a 27-year-old struggling singer-songwriter in Suffolk who, like most musicians, is about ready to give up trying to make a living in that biz.
And then along comes a worldwide power glitch followed by distracted biking and a collision with a bus. When Jack wakes up, he's missing a few front teeth but is otherwise good to go. That is, until his long-time manager and only true fan, Ellie Appleton (Lily James), gives him a "get better" guitar, asks him to play something, and is stunned by how good his song is. That, of course, is the title track and Jack is a bit confused that she and their friends act as if they've never heard it or of the Beatles. An Internet search follows and much to his horror, he discovers the band never existed.
Once the shock wears off, he decides that since that seems to be the case, he really wouldn't be stealing their material and thus starts jotting down the lyrics, melodies and so on. All of which results, natch, in him skyrocketing to fame and fortune. Not to mention increasing guilt and hints that he might be found out as an opportunistic fraud.
There's something truly remarkable and magical about the "first time" experience the film inexplicably pulls off and that helps carry it along as do the performances by Patel and James. That said, their romance feels a bit half-baked, which is surprising considering that writer Richard Curtis expertly wrangled a bunch of them in "Love Actually."
And those looking for an explanation about how the Beatles disappeared from existence won't get an answer, and I'm a bit surprised that Curtis and director Danny Boyle didn't get a bit more creative with the overall "what if" scenario and the ripple down effect of the Fab Four and their music never existing.
I can't say that outside of the following's diehard fan base, the addition of musician Ed Sheeran playing himself and helping turn Jack into a star doesn't really do much for the story or overall film in general. And Kate McKinnon again pushes the envelope almost to the point of "SNL" caricature playing a ruthless and greedy manager.
None of those are huge objections and in the end I enjoyed the film quite a bit. If you're a Beatles fan, I imagine you might as well. "Yesterday" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.
Reviewed May 29, 2019 / Posted June 28, 2019
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