FILM REVIEW – YESTERDAY. With Himesh Patel, Lily James, Ed Sheeran, Kate McKinnon, Joel Fry. Written by Richard Curtis. Directed by Danny Boyle. Rated PG-13 for suggestive content and language. 106 minutes.
In a season of sequels, reboots, and remakes, along comes YESTERDAY, one of the most original movies you’re likely to see this year. The premise is deceptively simple. Jack Malik (British TV actor Himesh Patel) is a smalltime singer/songwriter, with his childhood friend Ellie (Lily James) acting as his manager/driver/confidante. One night, Jack is hit by a bus in during an unexplained worldwide power outage.
When he awakens in his hospital, bed he finds that he has slipped into an alternate universe where the Beatles never happened. John, Paul, George, and Ringo are unknown, as are all their songs. Jack remembers them (if not all the lyrics), and when he starts to perform them is hailed as the greatest music star of his generation. As the story unfolds, you have to wonder where it’s going to go and how it’s going to end. That won’t be revealed here. Suffice to say, they don’t take the easy way out.
The film’s success starts with a brilliant script by Richard Curtis, who wrote “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and wrote and directed “Love Actually.” He loves his quirky characters and gets the laughs while hitting some emotional truths. Jack enjoys his success but feels increasingly guilty that he’s riding on the brilliance of others, even if no one else knows. Curtis has some surprises along the way, including Jack’s discovery of how else this alternate timeline is different from his own.
Director Danny Boyle (whose credits range from “Trainspotting” to “Slumdog Millionaire”), has a sure hand on the proceedings. He navigates Jack’s rise from small bars to massive concerts without losing his focus on the characters. Patel will be a discovery for American viewers, presenting Jack as someone both excited by and insecure about his newfound popularity. James is touching as someone who has long believed in him while waiting for him to wake up to the potential of more than a professional relationship. Real life singer/songwriter Ed Sheeran pops up as himself, providing a droll portrait as the person who “discovers” Jack, calling himself Salieri to Jack’s Mozart.
Although it’s a supporting role, one of the delights of the movie is that finally someone has made good use of the incredibly talented Kate McKinnon, the SNL star who has been the standout in a number of mediocre movies. Here she’s Debra Hammer, the talent manager from hell. Her character’s self-absorption and bluntness makes her the perfect foil for the humane and somewhat naïve Jack.
Naturally, the soundtrack is filled with Beatles songs, making the film a tribute to how much their music has meant to us for more than fifty years. “Yesterday” is a tribute to the Beatles as well as a rich comedy that puts Jack on a journey where he has to decide what success really means. As with other movies scripted by Curtis, it may not please the cynical or cold-hearted, but for the rest of us, it’s one of the best movies you’re likely to see this year.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.