Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away, but then this film came into theaters and brought them back. Yesterday is an unintentionally cute but wildly forgettable film that can practically be seen in its entirety through its trailers. With a creative idea that could have gone in any number of directions, director Danny Boyle fails to even stay on one path, losing his footing too many times. Despite the great cast and a number of expectedly catchy song renditions, his film’s script and inability to choose a tone ultimately make it dull, repetitive, and clichéd. Marketed as the ‘feel-good movie of the summer,’ Yesterday admittedly does a great job at making the audience smile- as long as they are only there to mindlessly sing along to an empty premise of a film.
Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a part-time teacher and struggling musician who fails to make a name for himself, even with the help of his best friend and manager Ellie (Lily James). When the world goes dark and he accidentally gets hit by a bus, Jack wakes up in a world where The Beatles had never existed. Knowing that this is his chance for stardom, he decides to make a career out of “writing” and singing the entire discography of the legendary band but finds himself in over his head. The film’s script, written by Richard Curtis and based off of a story by Jack Barth, is where the majority of its problems lie.
In the weeks leading up to Yesterday’s release, I was genuinely excited about the film. Not quite a biopic but not quite a concert film, I expected a cute love story meshed in with intrapersonal drama and a whole lot of Beatles music. The latter is the only aspect that we receive, given that the story and writing behind this adorable premise were nearly absent. While it was interesting to see how the world reacted to Jack’s music without knowing that he basically stole it, there was absolutely no substance to the rest of the story. Yesterday feels like an empty shell waiting to be filled with any kind of purpose. Not to mention that the ceaselessly optimistic nature of The Beatles’ music would likely not make any kind of impression amongst today’s more decadent and restless pop music.
Yesterday hits all of the beats that you would expect in a lighthearted drama, but none of the choices that the characters make carry any weight to them. Jack was a simple-minded musician who wanted to be a star and he never developed into anything else, despite the various struggles he was faced with. His character seemed to only be focused on one singular thing, and even though that may be how some set out to achieve their goals, it does nothing for the film. A drama cannot be a drama without conflict, and the little challenges that Jack had to face were small bumps in the road that his character practically ignored. The main issue surrounding the script, however, is that it never once chooses what it wants to be. Yesterday could have been an emotional love story between Jack and Ellie set to the tune of The Beatles or it could have even been a dark and introspective look at the dangers of copyright infringement. Curtis’ script, unfortunately, does not dare to go on any of those paths. Lack of direction makes a film feel pointless and it’s a shame that so much good music went to waste by carrying this entire story.
Along with the theme of uncertainty surrounding what message Yesterday was trying to send, many of the film’s plotlines were abandoned solely for the sake of having a happy ending. Jack and Ellie’s romantic arc was extremely distasteful, especially towards Ellie. Their frustrating and one-sided romance is quite a shame, especially for James, who deserves a much more suiting role to show off her acting chops. In Jack’s alternate universe where he has become a rockstar and missed out on his chance of love, other things also do not exist, such as Coca-Cola, cigarettes, and Harry Potter. The reason why these pieces of culture are absent is beyond me, such as the case with the other people who remembered the Beatles’ music. Two nameless characters are introduced in this film who, along with Jack, wonder why the world has forgotten about the Fab Four. This scene does absolutely nothing for the story and only added to its overall confusion. Multiple subplots like such are introduced without any resolution to come, ultimately revealing themselves as missed opportunities due to lazy writing.
Christopher Ross’ cinematography also acts as a deterrence to enjoying the film. While the production design was colorful and Jon Harris’ editing was passable, Ross’ constant use of Dutch angles and birds’ eye camerawork made me feel uneasy. The cinematography did not seem to fit the tone of the musical scenes in which Jack is finding his voice and was definitely a strange stylistic choice. Things that I did love about this film, however, were all of the performances. First-time actor Patel was fantastic in his role as Jack and excelled in moments that required him to sing. It is also joyous to see an Indian actor play a lead role in a mainstream film without the subject of said film revolving around his heritage. The cast members who surprised me the most were actually Ed Sheeran and Kate McKinnon. Sheeran did not come off as a teen pop music sensation, but rather as a more down-to-earth and honest character who was there to actually help Jack through his newfound career. McKinnon’s role as Debra was very fitting and she was surprisingly in touch with her role, despite it feeling like the character was loosely put together by SNL writers. And though the ending of Yesterday was not even close to being earned, the heartwarming feeling that the audience experiences as this film concludes is lovably amusing.
There may not be a single band in history more iconic and world-renowned than The Beatles, but as of yet any attempt at making a worthy film about the legacy of their music has fallen short. While Yesterday had the potential to do just about anything with its message, the film instead decided to meander around a lackluster script and an even clumsier love story. I had very high hopes for this movie and while it was not inherently bad, I just wish it had a reason for existing.