‘Yesterday’ Film Review: A Beatles What-If Story

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What a clever premise for a film: Everyone but our hero wakes up never knowing The Beatles.

The film opened June 28 in theaters everywhere.

The first part of the film adroitly sets up the main storyline: A struggling musician is getting nowhere (despite a well-shot appearance at the Latitude Festival), he decides to chuck it in, incurs a bike accident in the midst of a 12-second global blackout and then discovers no one has ever heard the music of the four Liverpudlians.

Jack (Himesh Patel) is hugely convincing in his effort to relearn the most valuable songbook in history. The songs are recorded live, adding immediacy to the music scenes. The initial cluelessness of his friends provides crucial building blocks. Fortunately, each successive glimpse into the new normal is well-played, and soon Jack is off and running.

Watch Jack perform “Let It Be”

Jack struggles with the ethics of his burgeoning success, but he continues snowballing forward. Soon Ed Sheeran (playing himself remarkably well) pays a visit and offers Jack an opening slot. With Sheeran’s real-life tour about to overtake U2 as the most lucrative in history, the casting director hit a home run.

Related: Read more about Yesterday

Sheeran’s agent Debra (Kate McKinnon) is likewise well cast, guiding Jack to the toppermost rung of the music business ladder.

But soon the second part of the film emerges. The breadcrumbs of Jack’s long relationship with his manager Ellie (the excellent Lily James) are soon gathered and we see the film blossom into a love story—we have been wanting she and Jack to further connect from the outset.

Watch another clip from Yesterday

Stepping back, it is clear that the film’s producers saw the wisdom of pairing Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting) with screenwriter Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Love Actually). The former has a superbly deft hand in integrating music with film, and the latter has shown major success in weaving unconventional yet convincing love stories. In fact, one of Curtis’ best wedding scenes includes the surprise rendition of “All You Need is Love.”

The storyline for Yesterday was created by Jack Barth, who was trying for decades to get the film made. Apparently, his original story was darker than the one Curtis developed.

Alternative history: The “Hey Dude” scene

In addition to a treasure trove of their music performed admirably by Jack, the film includes many unstated homages to the Beatles’ history: Jack’s first performance of his new album is on a rooftop (the Beatles’ final performance was on the roof of their offices in Soho), and a long and winding road takes Jack to a truly emotional encounter.

The film is lushly shot, with most outdoor scenes sunny and warm. The rest of the cast is engaging, including a small role from a famous American late-night talk show host.

One last point. In his bike accident, Jack gets his two front teeth knocked out. What is it about recent music films and this British focus on front teeth (Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman)?

Watch the trailer from Yesterday

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Brad Auerbach

Brad Auerbach has been covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, Village Voice, Entertainment Today, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.
Brad Auerbach
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  1. John Rose
    #1 John Rose 29 June, 2019, 08:30

    Perhaps the bike accident resulting in a tooth issue is a reference to this incident. https://www.beatlesbible.com/1965/12/26/paul-mccartney-moped-accident-liverpool/

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  2. Bob
    #2 Bob 5 July, 2019, 07:43

    No one seems to remember this storyline in the 1990s series ” Goodnight Sweetheart”, where the main character is able to go back in time to the 40s and plays Beatle songs to them, passing them off as his own. Who wrote that screenplay? I’m starting to feel like Emma Thompson

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