‘Yesterday’ strictly for Beatles superfans
Rated: PG-13 for suggestive content and language
Story by: Jack Barth and Richard Curtis, screenplay by Richard Curtis
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Starring: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Sophia Di Martino, Harry Michell, Joel Fry, Kate Mckinnon, Ed Sheeran and more
Grade: Two stars
“Yesterday” wants you to love The Beatles.
I don’t mean “love” as in “I enjoy eating this hamburger.” I mean love as in “this hamburger is the greatest thing of all time; This hamburger changed my life; This hamburger makes me want to use hyperbolic metaphors.”
That depth of love is the entire theme and purpose of “Yesterday,” — the latest from director Danny Boyle — but that’s about all it gets right. A paper-thin fairy tale that collapses completely by the end, the movie exists mostly to let audiences spend two hours listening to well-done covers of some of The Beatles’ biggest hits. The cast is the only other bright spot in the movie, particularly Himesh Patel in the lead role.
The movie opens with Jack (Patel) as a struggling musician, playing to almost non-existent audiences. His only fan is his manager, Ellie (Lily James), and eventually he gets so discouraged he decides to stop performing completely. That changes when a worldwide blackout causes everyone but Jack to forget The Beatles existed. In an attempt to reach the success that’s eluded him, Jack decides to claim their songs as his own.
The music in “Yesterday” is great, giving some well-known Beatles songs a slightly new spin. They’re fun and can get you singing along under your breath to old favorites. Personally, I think the movie actually improves “The Long and Winding Road,” stripping the instrumental down to a single piano and letting the lyrics shine. Even if you’ve never liked that particular song before, it’s easy to fall in love with it.
for beatles lovers
Still, the sheer adulation the movie pours out onto The Beatles can be a little off-putting. The movie asks you to not just enjoy their music, but to feel like the world would be a sad and empty place without their songs. It wants you to feel this so strongly that you don’t mind hearing this message repeated in different ways for two solid hours. Worse, the movie doesn’t take the time to explain why life would suck without The Beatles. You’re just supposed to believe them.
Sadly, it’s really the only thing the movie has to say. The first half of the movie seems like it’s setting up a basic but heartfelt message about artistic integrity, one that’s been said before but seemed heartfelt. Then it looked like it was going to shade into a message about artistic success being less important than living a happy life, which was just as basic but entertaining enough. The movie ends up following through on neither of these ideas, choosing to collapse into a mishmash of an ending that offers neither satisfaction or even basic logic.
Patel does everything he can to make up for the lack of story development. Best known for his work on British television, Patel is absolutely charming, a likeable everyman with a fantastic sense of comic timing. Add the fact that he has a pretty good singing voice, and it’s an absolute crime that he hasn’t done more movie work. Hopefully, someone will see “Yesterday” and start solving that problem immediately. Lily James is as radiant as always, and Kate McKinnon is effortlessly entertaining in her short amount of screen time.
If only they’d come together in a much better movie.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.