Is “Yesterday” worth a date night this weekend? Yes!
The film is directed by the movie-lover’s dream team of directors, Danny Boyle (“127 Hours,” “Slumdog Millionaire”) and rom-com kingpin Richard Curtis (“Notting Hill,” “Love Actually”). Together, they’ve created a thoroughly entertaining musical comedy fantasy.
In the movie, a struggling musician Jack (Hamish Patel) has the ethical quandary of a lifetime when he discovers the world suddenly doesn’t know The Beatles ever existed. He realizes he can claim the songs as his own to win global stardom. Fresh plot, fresh faces, and a heart-tugging romance underneath it all makes this one of the best date movies of the year.
A miracle with a huge moral dilemma attached
You probably can’t go to any civilized place on the planet without hearing the music of The Beatles on a daily basis. Their music has dominated the pop culture landscape for well over fifty years, with over 100 million albums sold.
Jack is ready to give up on his ambitions after a disastrous appearance at a music festival. His longtime friend and manager Ellie (Lily James) is heartbroken by his decision. She tries to convince him that a miracle might be just around the corner.
It turns out that she’s remarkably prescient. While Jack rides his bike home that night, a worldwide power outage occurs for 12 seconds. Jack is hit by a bus in the darkness. Later, he awakens in a hospital with his two front teeth missing. He also finds that no one around him knows who The Beatles are or recognizes any of their songs.
Searching the web, Jack finds that there are literally no references to The Beatles. His record collection is devoid of their albums as well. The Rolling Stones exist, but the Beatles-derivative band Oasis has also been wiped off the planet’s collective consciousness. Jack sees a golden opportunity in all of this. He proceeds to play from memory and record as many of the Fab Four’s tunes as he can.
Then, Jack claims the songs as his own.
He immediately finds himself on a rocket ride to fame. Present-day superstar Ed Sheeran (playing himself with comic aplomb) sees him on a local TV show. Sheeran hires Jack as his opening act on tour. But then Jack starts getting more fan mania than Ed himself. Ed’s comically ruthless manager (Kate McKinnon) pushes to make him the biggest artist of all time. That’s when things start to get complicated on both his professional front and his relationship with Ellie.
A balance of laughter, suspense, and moral food for thought
“Yesterday” is a terrifically good time at the movies. Boyle deftly handles the fantasy, comedy and romantic elements with total grace. Patel’s performance as Jack should be an instant star-maker for the actor. Patel previously only worked in British television. But he has a magnetic ability to earn empathy for a character who might have just seemed like a selfish con artist in the hands of most actors.
As Ellie, James is clearly channeling a young Keira Knightley. She’s irresistibly winsome. The world needs more of that kind of delightful charm, especially when Knightley has matured into more complex roles. Sheeran brings surprising comical zing to his part. McKinnon brings a zesty sense of comic ruthlessness and greed to the table, delivering some of the funniest moments.
The screenplay by Richard Curtis stands up to that prior wonderful trio. Everything is grounded in relatable characters. And, of course, you can’t beat hearing the greatest pop songs ever through the fresh voice and adaptations of Jack.
Curtis layers in some intriguing moral quandaries as well. Jack lives in constant fear of someone catching on to his ruse. He worries that the world will suddenly remember The Beatles again. Nearly everyone has faced a moment in life where they could get away with a scam or a shortcut that is highly questionable. The way that Jack faces his is both moving and entertaining.
“Yesterday” doesn’t rely on cheap thrills to succeed
“Yesterday” provides some thoughtful insights into the creative process of great songwriting. Jack and his producers put their own fresh tweaks on the tunes. They turn “Help” into a revved-up rocker that sounds like a Ramones tune, for instance.
Then Jack realizes he’s going to face questions about what inspired each song. So he heads to key places like Liverpool to try and get his own understanding of places like Penny Lane and Eleanor Rigby’s grave.
Morally, this is one of the most innocent movies to come down the pike in a long while. There are five uses of Christ’s name in vain early on. But other than five uses of the word “damn” there is literally no profanity, violence or nudity. There is an implied sex scene but the movie also winds up having a beautifully positive take on marriage and parenthood. Jack and Ellie are refreshingly matter of fact about their belief in God when discussing miracles early in the film.
But the most fascinating part of this unexpected charmer is being forced to consider what would happen if the whole world was deprived of The Beatles’ joyous music. “Yesterday” makes you appreciate the magical soundtrack their music has played in all our lives since the early 1960s, and will hopefully continue to color our lives for generations to come.
Carl Kozlowski is a Catholic comedian, film reviewer, and journalist who is also the founder and co-owner of the podcast station www.radiotitans.com in Los Angeles. He reviews movies for the Catholic News Agency as well as the Christian site Movieguide.org, but has also worked with secular outlets including the Pasadena Weekly, Chicago Tribune and Esquire. He has also produced and hosted comedy shows for the LA Catholic Archdiocese's charities and performed at some of the nation's top clubs and with top comics including Dane Cook and Dave Chappelle. He strives to find the way to work with both Christian and secular audiences in all his career paths.