I absolutely love the premise of YESTERDAY. It was conceived by Jack Barth and then fine-tuned by Richard Curtis, who also penned the screenplay. Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), a struggling singer-songwriter, is hit by a bus in Suffolk, England while riding his bike during a 12-second worldwide blackout. When he recovers, he’s the only one who remembers The Beatles.
What’s a broke musician to do? Well, Jack does what just about anyone else would do --- he starts playing and recording their songs as his own. All his friends, including his best friend from childhood, Ellie (Lily James), who also happens to be his manager, driver and roadie, are amazed. Where are all these fantastic songs coming from?
After he’s recorded a few of The Beatles’ songs with the help of his new-found producer, Gavin (Alexander Arnold), and Ellie, Jack starts receiving phone calls from Ed Sheeran --- but of course, he doesn’t believe it’s Ed Sheeran. So --- after not having his calls taken seriously, Sheeran shows up at Jack’s home to ask Jack to open for him in Moscow.
Now Jack’s in need of a real roadie --- and Ellie can’t leave because she’s a schoolteacher --- so he asks their crazy friend, Rocky (Joel Fry). And being in Russia, this is Jack’s big chance to debut “Back in the USSR”, which solidifies him as a rock star. Sheeran’s manager, Debra (Kate McKinnon), is desperate to represent the new kid --- and Jack becomes her new project.
When Ellie finds out that Jack is leaving for Los Angeles, she realizes that things will never be the same. She has been in love with him since they were kids, but now it’s his big chance to have it all --- stardom, fame and fortune. But while in LA, Jack can’t remember the words to songs like “Eleanor Rigby” and “Penny Lane”, so he flies back to the UK for research.
It is then, when Ellie comes to visit, that he realizes he has always loved her, too. And, he’s also been having regrets about claiming The Beatles’ music as his own. How can he get himself out of his self-made predicament --- and maybe still win Ellie’s heart?
Yes --- the premise is so very interesting, but without the great script by Curtis, direction by Danny Boyle and fabulous cast, YESTERDAY would not be the delightfully entertaining experience that it is. Curtis had helped Boyle with the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics in London, so they knew they collaborated well. And Boyle certainly knows how to get the most out of a musical after directing SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE.
But the success of YESTERDAY lies in the performance by Patel. He is extraordinary. He is known in Britain for his long run on the BBC series “EastEnders”, but outside of England, he is relatively unknown. His talent, however, abounds. He does his own singing and guitar playing --- and all the musical numbers were shot live! Amazing!
Boyle insisted that it be done this way, despite the fact it makes filming that much more difficult. Patel is definitely up to the task --- taking two months to learn all of the songs selected for the film and improving his skills.
James is equally talented. She has a great voice, herself, as evidenced in MAMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN. Plus, she’s adorable and a terrific actor. Fry is very engaging as the doltish roadie with a big heart, who is so devoted to his rock-star friend. I found him charming. The one disappointment in YESTERDAY is McKinnon. She totally overplays the hard-nosed Hollywood manager. I found her performance to be a complete cliché, which is difficult for me because I am a huge fan.
As we were leaving our screening, I turned to David and wondered aloud how they were able to get the rights to all of The Beatles’ music. As it turns out, both Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, and the estates of John Lennon and George Harrison, gave their approval for the production. How splendid, because YESTERDAY brings it all back --- and then some!
You won’t hear every song you love, but trust me, there are enough to satisfy even the most diehard Beatle fan --- like David. Even if you were never a big fan --- perish the thought --- hearing this music will bring back memories and create new ones for a whole different generation!
Opinion: See It Now!
Imagine a world where no one knows who The Beatles are, aside from one struggling singer-songwriter who remembers most of the lyrics to most of their songs. He also can perform their music to perfection. Such is the is the unique premise of YESTERDAY, directed by Oscar-winner Danny Boyle (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, 127 HOURS) and written by Oscar-nominee Richard Curtis (FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL), based on an original story by Jack Barth.
YESTERDAY is a wonderful homage to The Beatles’ incredible array of songs and their impact on the world, even to this day to a new generation of listeners. The story focuses on Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) who adopts their songs for his own personal gain, abetted by a manipulative, greedy manager named Debra (nastily played by Kate McKinnon). Jack’s meteoric rise as the planet’s supreme musician comes at a price, and that is the essence of this movie.
Jack never feels completely comfortable accepting the accolades of family, friends and the general public because he feels like a fraud. So how will this possibly work out? Curtis and Boyle handle the film’s premise and ultimate conclusion in the best possible way. The result is an energetic --- often frenetic --- hugely entertaining, crowd-pleasing cinematic experience you won’t soon forget.
At the center of it all is Patel. The 28-year-old British actor is as accomplished in front of the camera as he is singing into a microphone. His astonishing vocal talents are matched by his guitar and piano playing. One of the filmmakers opined that the young man should next be cutting an album. The reality is that YESTERDAY is Patel’s feature length debut, but he has more film projects in the works.
Patel doesn’t overplay Jack’s conundrum, but his facial expressions say a lot about what Jack is feeling. It is quite apparent that Jack finally is able to enjoy a performance without feeling guilty when he regales a group of grade schoolers with The Beatles’ joyous ditty “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”. And joyous is a perfect word to describe YESTERDAY.
Patel’s co-star is Lily James who plays Ellie, Jack’s friend since childhood who also manages his failing music career while maintaining her job as a schoolteacher. James’ character is cast as a brunette --- she usually plays a blonde beauty --- and Lily’s performance is sensational. Did I mention Ellie is also in love with the handsome Jack?
You don’t have to be a lifelong Beatles’ fan to revel in YESTERDAY, although it probably helps to recognize the songs that were chosen. I found myself silently mouthing many of the lyrics while wondering which songs would be forthcoming.
The movie is full of humor, much of it provided by Jack’s best friend and roadie Rocky (Joel Fry) and his father Jed (Sanjeev Bhaskar). When Jack tries numerous times to perform “Let It Be” for his parents, only to be continuously interrupted, it’s very funny. World-famous singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran also appears as himself and he does a very credible job, surprising Jack by showing up at his family’s doorstep in Suffolk, England.
YESTERDAY is nearly a flawless movie, the only misstep being that Jack, when presented with a new guitar by his friends, immediately sings and plays the title song without tuning his new instrument. Of course, this film is part science fiction since the worldwide absence of The Beatles awareness is ostensibly caused by a global 12-second blackout. Everything from a local Bingo parlor to the Eiffel Tower goes dark --- nicely presented in the movie. There are other commodities besides The Beatles that the world doesn’t recognize, but why spoil the fun by mentioning them here?
Opinion: Strong See It Now!