Yesterday hooks you with one hell of a premise. What if one person, due to a freak sci-fi-level accident, was the only person on Earth who remembered The Beatles: and he’s a musician! With promises of tons of real licensed Beatles music (which likely cost Universal a pretty penny) and a massive subplot involving the real Ed Sheeran, Yesterday seems like an absolute slam dunk. And at first, it is until it slowly devolves into a romantic comedy that lacks the same love and care it gives the musical source material.
We begin with Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), a failed musician who is trying to make ends meet alongside of his manager Ellie (Lily James): who he also happens to be in love with. Then one fateful night, and a “thunk!” on the head and act-of-God-worldwide-lightning-storm later, he wakes up and everyone has forgotten The Beatles. As in: their songs, the band members, the history, all of it.
The concept alone is enough to bring a smile to my face, and it did, quite often, for the first hour or so. As someone who owns every Beatles album and studies their history in my spare time, even the little Dad jokes of the film landed. I’ll likely never forget the chicanery involved when he plays a hit song for his family and is incredulous when they don’t accept it as the most brilliant work ever written.
Those antics carry on for some time (and even elevate, as he finds out that other very famous creations or people also don’t exist in this new universe), and then they kind of grind to a halt once the love story enters the picture. The problem is that although Patel and James are likable and put in work, they were never really convincing to me as a couple: especially to the point where the film can justify moving the focus off the music, orbiting entirely around them.
It makes a certain sense though, right? With how love-focused The Beatles’ songs are, falling back on romantic comedy sensibilities does fit within this new fantasy zone in theory. It just never really follows through and introduces more cartoony (but well played) characters like Kate McKinnon’s over-the-top record producer along the way. It sounds cheap, but I felt a strong emotional connection to so many of the adaptations throughout the film. It’s not a new concept in the medium (I Am Sam had a great soundtrack that consisted entirely of Beatles covers), but there is so much reverence abound that you can’t help but at least respect Yesterday, even if it misses the mark.