Yesterday (dir. Danny Boyle, 2019) – Following a road accident, musician Jack Malik wakes up to find himself in an alternate timeline, where the Beatles do not exist.
Leaving the cultural legacy of the Beatles to the sidelines, Yesterday serves up its charming romance with a disappointing side of missed opportunities.
Imagine there’s no Beatles. What would the world be without Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Yellow Submarine? Who, if anyone, would have led the cultural revolution in place of the Fab Four?What of the myriad bands influenced by John, Paul, George, and Ringo to begin playing music in the first place?
Oddly enough, no major changes occur in this alternate timeline of Yesterday. That is at least in the aspect of music, which continues to thrive with the gaping hole in cultural history. The whimsical concept remains uninterested in exploring the lasting legacy of the Beatles, operating on arbitrary rules of logic.
And so goes Oasis, Harry Potter, Coca-Cola, and cigarettes away from the world without rhyme, reason, or consequence. The ambitious premise instead simply leads on to the story of everyman musician Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), the only person who seems to remember the height of Beatlemania.
Realising the opportunity he has, he begins to perform the music of Beatles as his own and his once-declining career finally gains ground. But building his fame on the very idea of plagiarism, the horror of impostor syndrome quickly catches up with him. His newfound fame also has him drifting away from his manager and best friend Ellie (Lily James), whose obvious crush on him he somehow misses.
One can see where this is all going. From there, Yesterday takes a predictable turn into the familiar plot of life and love, courtesy of Richard Curtis. As a romantic comedy, it comes through as well as one would expect from the beloved screenwriter of Bridget Jones’ Diary, Notting Hill, and About Time.
We forget the intricacies of a world without The Beatles and root for Jack in his pursuits. We laugh along as he struggles to recall what Eleanor Rigby had been doing in the church, or butchers Hey Jude with a little help from the very likable Ed Sheeran. It helps that Himesh Patel as Jack exudes charisma that makes his slip-ups a charming watch.
But as a Beatles tribute, Yesterday comes up short of its promise by sidestepping their impact, reducing their songs to Jack’s above-average covers. There is always that gnawing note of tragedy in the air, in that it is not just the Beatles who are forgotten, but the meaning of their songs that Jack never does and will figure out.