The Critic's Corner
July 8-14, 2019
By David Laprad
Another romantic comedy
What would you do if you realized no one but you could remember The Beatles?
If Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr had never banded together to make music? If the albums “Abbey Road,” “Help!” and “A Hard Day’s Night” had never been released? And if the songs “Hey Jude,” “Let it Be” and “Yesterday” had never been composed or recorded?
Would you grab an acoustic guitar and start picking out the chords and writing down the lyrics? Would you then perform these songs for others while passing them off as your own?
This is what Jack Malik does in the jukebox musical “Yesterday” when he wakes up after being hit by a bus during a mysterious worldwide blackout and realizes no one but him remembers the Fab Four.
You can imagine the fun filmmakers could have with this concept. And director Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire”) and writer Richard Curtis (“Bridget Jones’s Diary”) have certainly made a vibrant and humorous crowd-pleasing treat. But “Yesterday” could have been more than that.
Jack is a struggling singer-songwriter with big dreams when the accident occurs. Actually, calling him “struggling” is generous, as he could count on one hand the average number of people who hear him play at gigs and even though he’s an adult, he still lives with his parents.
Within this aimless, despondent existence, his scruffy, unkempt beard becomes a metaphor.
Jack’s best friend and manager is Ellie, who secretly loves him, though I didn’t understand why. Maybe the same movie magic that tweaks the history of the world during the blackout made her heart irretrievably his.
Anyway, all the parts for an entertaining and compelling romp are in place when Jack casually mentions The Beatles to his friends during a post-hospital celebration. When they don’t know the band or its songs, Jack thinks they’re joking – until he later Googles “The Beatles” and is shown nothing but six-legged insects.
From there, Boyle and Curtis make the most of the film’s comedic potential. A good example of this is the scene in which Jack tries to play “Let it Be” for his parents and is hilariously subjected to multiple interruptions.
“You’re the first people on Earth to hear this song!” Jack exclaims in frustration. You can hear him straining to keep from explaining the staggering significance of the music to them.
Where “Yesterday” falters is with its dramatic potential. The film toys with several good ideas but never fleshes them out. How would the world differ without The Beatles? Is the artist or his music more relevant? Can art exist alongside materialism?
How does theft and living a lie affect a person? When does an artist relinquish ownership of his work to humankind? Does today’s music lack the impact of the classics? Is certain music timeless?
These and other ideas bubble up at the surface of the story and then pop and are never seen again. As a result, “Yesterday” fails to do the music of The Beatles justice, despite offering many energetic renditions of their songs.
“Yesterday” eventually stops trying to be something it isn’t and settles with being a romantic comedy – a paint-by-numbers but charming and heartfelt one.
Himesh Patel and Lily James are good as Jack and Ellie and have enough chemistry to pull off a love affair. (It helps that the hospital shaves off Jack’s beard after the accident.)
In this sense, “Yesterday” answers what was probably its most important question: Are money and fame enough?
Humor and charisma certainly are when it comes to movies. Despite its frothy nature, “Yesterday” crosses the finish line a winner, aided in no small part by a large dollop of nostalgia and Boyle’s strong visuals.
So, what would you do if you realized no one but you could remember The Beatles? I hope you’d give the band’s music to the world again, even if you kept your secret and the fortune that came with it. I believe you’d deserve the money for making the world a better place.
See it later.
Rated PG-13 for suggestive content and language.
David Laprad is the assistant editor of the Hamilton County Herald and an award-winning columnist and photographer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.