Chicago Critics 2019: Yesterday

Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) gets a major career boost from Ed Sheeran (playing himself) after Jack begins performing songs by The Beatles, in "Yesterday," directed by Danny Boyle.

Danny Boyle’s Yesterday may be inspired by a world without The Beatles but unfortunately, the film loses its focus somewhere on the long and winding road.

Imagine a world where The Beatles never came into existence.  This is what screenwriter Richard Curtis asks in a crowd-pleasing screenplay.  Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) was about to give up his dreams as a singer-songwriter.  Best friend Ellie (Lily James) shows support for Jack but it isn’t enough.  For what it’s worth, Ellie is always there for him.  Twelves seconds changes everything.  A global blackout.  Meanwhile, a bus hits Jack at the same time.  When Ellie doesn’t understand a reference to “When I’m 64,” Jack knows something is up.  It takes some investigating and he uses this to his advantage.  When he gets a new guitar to celebrate being released from the hospital, Jack performs “Yesterday.”  To his surprise, the Paul McCartney-penned classic doesn’t ring a bell.  It even evokes a reference to Coldplay because Oasis no longer exists.

One thing leads to another and Jack finds himself getting a record deal as a result of Ed Sheeran bringing him on tour.  Fun fact: Coldplay’s Chris Martin was the first choice.  He gets an American agent in the form of Debra (Kate McKinnon).  While I generally like McKinnon, her performance just doesn’t seem right for this film.  Before long, Jack is bringing in more success than Sheeran.  This is no surprise because after all, he’s giving The Beatles back to humanity.  It works when the film focuses on Jack as a musician.

The first two CDs that I ever bought were Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road.  It’s hard to imagine life without John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr.  It is because of this reason that I went into The Beatles-heavy film with high expectations.  Obviously, the music in the film is really amazing.  Some songs veer away from their original versions.  During a late-film concert, you can hear the anger in Jack’s voice while singing “Help.”  Funny enough, this was a song written by John at a time when he was feeling insecure.  Naturally, it makes sense for this version to give away a punk vibe to the song.

I don’t envy music producer Adem Ilhan and composer Daniel Pemberton for their musical contributions.  Selecting which Beatles songs make this film is not an easy feat.  As for Pemberton’s score, it feels very Beatles-esque in a nice way.

The main problem with Yesterday is that the film finds itself in studio rom-com territory.  I like the Beatles but there are plenty of romantic comedies out there.  If this film were about one man being the only person to remember their songs existing, it would be perfectly fine.  But to go into the rom-com territory?  This is where the film gets a bit problematic.  The film follows all the classic beats minus the meet cute because Jack and Ellie are lifelong friends.  I really wish that the script didn’t follow this route.

The other problem comes is one that comes after Jack releases his album.  Two other people inform Jack they also remember the songs.  It would otherwise be the perfect opportunity for a Paul McCartney or Ringo Starr cameo.  This does not happen.  Not at all.  Instead, an unforgivable jaw-dropping decision is made.  One in which will likely be frowned upon by others.  It seems as if the only purpose here is to serve as a pep talk for Jack.  In a perfect world, the scene would work.  When you take away the Beatles, it sets off a chain of events.

Yesterday had the makings of being a great rock film that doubles as a love letter to The Beatles but falls apart by going into rom-com territory.  A predictable one at that!

DIRECTOR:  Danny Boyle
SCREENWRITER:  Richard Curtis
CAST:  Himesh Patel, Lily James, with Ed Sheeran and Kate McKinnon

Yesterday screened during the 2019 Chicago Critics Film Festival. Universal Pictures will open the film on June 28, 2019. Grade: 3/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.