In the film “Yesterday,” Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a musician whose career is at a standstill. He plays guitar and sings songs he’s written, in front of small crowds at coffee shops, and other local venues, where the only applause he receives are from his friends. One of those friends is his manager, Ellie, portrayed by Lily James (Downton Abbey). Ellie has been Jack’s friend since childhood. It was during their childhood, when Ellie first recognized something special in Jack, during a school talent show where he performed the song “Wonderwall” by the band “Oasis.”
After ten years of struggling to make it in the music business, Jack is ready to quit music. He’s tired of working part time jobs, for little money, and is thinking that he will go back to teaching full time. The same night he informs Ellie that he’s giving up his musical ambitions, there is a global blackout that lasts for twelve seconds. During that time, while riding his bicycle home, Jack is hit by a bus. Upon waking up in the hospital, his ever loyal friend and manager, Lily, is there to greet him. When she gets up to leave, Jack makes reference to the song “When I’m Sixty-Four,” which was written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and recorded for “The Beatles” 1967 album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Lily asks “why the number sixty-four?” Later on, Jack again makes reference to “The Beatles” in front of Lily, as well as their friends Carol (Sophia Di Martino) and Nick (Harry Michell), none of whom know what he is talking about. They are, however, all moved when he plays the song “Yesterday,” acting as if they’ve never heard it before. At first, Jack thinks it is all part of some prank they’re playing on him.
Later that evening, Jack searches on-line for references to “The Beatles,” but nothing he finds online makes mention of John, Paul, George and Ringo. He searches his record collection, and not one “Beatles” album is to be found. Somehow, the blackout changed history, at least musically, and “The Beatles” never existed. Jack is seemingly the only person, who remembers the group, and their music.
Sensing an incredible opportunity to become the world famous musician he’s always dreamed of becoming, Jack writes down the lyrics to as many Beatles songs as he can remember. He begins performing the songs, but the crowds reactions are still on the icy side. One person, however, Gavin (Alexander Arnold), loves what he’s hearing, and agrees to record Jack. The record leads to a television appearance, which further leads to Jack being contacted by four time Grammy winner Ed Sheeran (Divide). Sheeran, who plays himself in the film, asks Jack to accompany him to Moscow, to be his opening act, where Jack performs a rocking version of “The Beatles” song “Back in the U.S.S.R,” and the crowd goes crazy for it, because it’s all new, as far as the audience is concerned.
After the show, Jack is approached by Sheeran’s manager, Debra Hammer, played by two time Emmy winner Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live). She is a Los Angles based music executive, who is very interested in representing Jack, and makes no pretense that she is going to reap great financial reward from his success. In addition to the aforementioned actors, there are others worthy of mention. Joel Fry (Game of Thrones), plays Rocky, Jack’s roadie, who more often than not, provides comic relief. Furthermore, Meera Syal and Sanjeev Bhaskar, who both received BAFTA nominations for their roles on “The Kumars at No. 42,” portray Jack’s parents Sheila and Jed. Additionally, late night talk show host and multiple Emmy winner James Corden (The Late Late Show with James Corden) has a cameo in the film. (As an aside: Ed Sheeran might not have been in the film, as his role was originally offered to Chris Martin, the lead singer of Coldplay, but Martin couldn’t take the part due to scheduling conflicts).
As I was watching the film, the following questions came to mind: Will Jack be exposed as a fraud? Are there other people out in the world, who remember “The Beatles?” Does Jack’s own conscious get the best of him? Does he admit, that his new found fame, is owed to a musical group, that only he remembers?
The film premiered on May 4, 2019 at the Tribeca Film Festival. Directed by Oscar winner Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), it comprises five different genres during its 116 minute runtime. The screenplay for the movie was written by three time BAFTA winner Richard Curtis (Love Actually) based on a story he wrote with Jack Barth (The Fabulous Picture Show). In addition to the seventeen “Beatles” songs that are included in the film’s soundtrack, the score, composed by two time Golden Globe nominee Daniel Pemberton (Gold), provided the right music for what was transpiring on screen. The film could be said to be a bit formulaic in its approach to the material; I wouldn’t argue against that. I also wouldn’t find fault with those that feel the characters, especially the romantic angle between Jack and Lily, needed to be fleshed out more, that’s a respectable point. This is the sort of film, however, where I didn’t much mind the two main critiques I’ve heard some people make about the movie. I went in to watch the film, wanting to see something fun, that featured music I knew I’d very much like, and that’s what it delivered.