An Honest Review Of 'Yesterday'

It's probaby the most expensive Beatles fan video ever made in recent history!
PHOTO: United International Pictures

The Long Plot, Sans Spoilers

Director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) and screenwriter Richard Curtis (Love Actually) imagine a world without The Beatles' musical influence and take you on a Magical Mystery Tour exploring said reality.

Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a struggling musician whose life changes when he gets hit by a bus at the same time that a worldwide blackout takes place. When Jack starts playing the song, "Yesterday" (boom, title drop) to his best friend Ellie (Lily James), she genuinely believes that he wrote the song on the fly. Turns out, the aftermath wiped out all traces of The Beatles in human history and memory with only Jack remembering that they actually existed. In Jack's attempt to desperately cling to the fading lyrics in his mind, he does a word map with Post-Its and later on visits some familiar locales to jog his memory—the movie's knowing wink, nod, and nudge to the Beatles fans.

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With the entire discography floating around his head, Jack starts performing the songs and claiming it as his own to great success. He eventually attracts the attention of the manager Debra (Kate McKinnon), who wants him to sign on to a major record label. But how long can Jack fib his way to music stardom before someone catches on?

The Short, Honest Plot

Probably the most expensive Beatles fan video ever made in recent history.

The Actors And Where You Last Saw Them

Himesh Patel as Jack Malik

For anglophiles who love British shows, you may recognize the actor from playing Tamwar Masood in the BBC soap opera, EastEnders. Yesterday is not just Himesh Patel's first time headlining as the main protagonist but it's also his major motion picture debut. The British actor/singer will appear in the biographical adventure film about James Glaisher entitled, The Aeronauts, alongside Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones.

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Lily James as Ellie

Lily James is best known for playing the main heroine in the live-action adaptation of Disney's Cinderella. You may have also seen the actress belting out ABBA songs as young Donna in Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again. Lily will be starring in the upcoming Netflix and Working Title collaboration, Rebecca, an adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's 1938 gothic novel.

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Ed Sheeran as Himself

If anyone can get away with portraying himself, it's definitely the Grammy-winning recording artist, Ed Sheeran. The singer with a penchant for mathematical symbols has several top-charting albums and is also a member of the Order of the British Empire. Beyond the realm of music, the singer voiced a character for The Simpsons and played a Lannister soldier in Game of Thrones.

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Kate McKinnon as Debra

The comedian won a Primetime Emmy Award (twice!) for her work as a regular cast member on Saturday Night Live. She's known for a string of funny films such as Ghostbusters, Rough Night, and Office Christmas Party. Kate McKinnon will be taking on a serious role portraying the infamous Theranos founder, Elizabeth Holmes, in the upcoming Searchlight/Hulu limited series, The Dropout.

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Joel Fry as Rocky

If the delightfully daft roadie Rocky looks mighty familiar then you may have seen his brief stint on HBO's Game of Thrones. Joel Fry played Hizdahr zo Loraq, a Mereen noble betrothed to Daenerys Targaryen. (That didn't last long because the Sons of the Harpy unceremoniously stabbed him.) Joel Fry will be starring in the upcoming films, a comedy entitled, Denmark, and the thriller flick Cordelia.

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James Corden as Himself

The Late Late Show host is no stranger to musicals having previously played the Baker in the 2014 version of Into The Woods and performing medleys in his own talk show. James Corden will be part of the 2019 cinematic adaptation of the iconic Broadway musical, Cats, as Bustopher Jones. 

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Alexander Arnold as Gavin

Alexander Arnold was part of the third generation Skins cast playing the metalhead Rich Hardbeck. He portrayed the role through the fifth and sixth seasons of the teen-oriented E4 series. Alexander Arnold will be acting opposite John Malkovich in the stage production, Bitter Wheat by David Mamet at the West End Garrick Theatre.

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Lamorne Morris as Head of Marketing

You may know Lamorne Morris best as the cat-loving roommate Winston Bishop from the Zooey Deschanel-produced Fox comedy series New Girl. He was also in other funny films such as Barbershop: The Next Cut and Game Night. Lamorne will be playing Wilfred Wigans in the upcoming Sony Pictures superhero film, Bloodshot, which also stars Vin Diesel.

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Did You Know?

1. Chris Martin of Coldplay was supposed to play Ed Sheeran's role in Yesterday. However, the frontman declined because he just finished a world tour and wanted to spend time with his family. The scene in the trailer where Coldplay's "Fix You" was brought up makes a lot more sense now that we know who was originally the first pick. Director Danny Boyle shares in an Entertainment Weekly article, "We have a very fun moment with Ed where we said, 'You'd be so good for this, you're our first choice. We can't think of anyone [else],' and he goes, 'Hang on, you've already asked Chris Martin.'"

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2. All four Beatles members were supposed to make an appearance in the movie.

3. The lady whom Jack serenades (with the classic Beatles song "Something") in the trailer was cut entirely from the film. Ana De Armas would have played a rival love interest named Roxanne. 

4. Danny Boyle sent letters to Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and Beatles wives Olivia Harrison and Yoko Ono discussing his plans for the film before proceeding with production.

5. Obtaining licensed music for a movie soundtrack can cost a ton of money. Imagine getting 18 tracks from one of the greatest musical acts of all time! According to Billboard, the cost of securing Beatles songs from Apple Records was estimated to about $10 million (P510 million)

6. Himesh Patel, already a self-taught guitarist for more than a decade, spent two months working with Yesterday's music producer Adem Ilhan (In the Loop) to polish his skills, perfect Beatles songs, and learn how to perform for a large audience.

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Himesh shares, "Adem instilled in me the confidence that I needed to do what I had to do—Wembley Stadium, Latitude, play to 6,000 people on Gorleston beach—crazy situations in which I get to do this thing I've always wanted to do, which is to play music in front of people."

7. Ed Sheeran's wife Cherry Seaborn appears in the film as a flight attendant serving champagne aboard the private jet. 

What My Friend Thinks:

"I have been obsessed with the Beatles nearly all my life, so I super loved that this was a unique twist on a Beatles-inspired movie! I'm aware that it wasn't a groundbreaking, award-winning film but the premise was interesting and made for some hilarious scenes, with really entertaining characters, and an amazing soundtrack. Some movies are just meant to be good fun, and this was hella fun especially for Beatles fans!" Jewel U. Angeles

What I Think:

I've been a Beatles fan since I was five years old and consumed every film, special episode, and documentary out there. The Fab Four have always been a fixture in pop culture consciousness, but I was eager to see if Yesterday could provide something fresh for long-time fans while being instrumental in introducing the music to a new generation.

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Yesterday's plot sets it up in such a way that the rest of the world serves as the proxy for viewers unacquainted with the Beatles, while Jack Malik represents the perspective of the overzealous fans. There are easter eggs such as Jack recreating the vintage Ringo Starr selfie, a visit to Liverpool (the band's hometown), a rooftop performance, and loads of frantic running scenes (which the band did in both their films and real-life). There are also tidbits of trivia thrown here, there, and everywhere, since Jack has to constantly explain the songs and their origins so that newbies aren't left clueless. Even the tracks used in the film were deliberately chosen for its universal appeal, recognizable enough even for the casual listener.

The sheer joy was apparent in every aspect of the filmmaking process. Straightforward scenes on the script were taken a step further and creatively executed. For instance, when Jack's trying to recall the lyrics to "Eleanor Rigby," they cut to an actual scene where particular lines from the song play out like a music video. The same scene was then repeatedly shown in different ways depending on how much Jack mucked up the words, getting far more absurd with every attempt. As more Beatles songs flood his memories, the titles start appearing in the band's iconic font and bright shade of Yellow Submarine, bouncing off the walls like a '90s PC screensaver.

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When dealing with the depth and breadth that is Beatlemania, the Yesterday production made the right decision to concentrate on a smaller cast of characters. Himesh Patel was convincing as the relatable everyman, handling the film's events with awe and confusion, plus, increasing guilt and exasperation. I was further impressed knowing that his musical performances were recorded live. I still prefer the original renditions but Himesh did justice to the songs. Lily James was adorable in her role as the supportive BFF Ellie. However, it's a bit of a stretch to the imagination for the actress to play such a mousy character who's pining for the protagonist—even for speculative fiction. (Will you look at how gorgeous she is? Come on!) I wish that Ellie's arc had something else going on beyond being the friendzoned manic pixie dream girl (wearing silly PJs was the visual cue, obvs) whose sole purpose is to light a fire under the hero's ass.

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Ed Sheeran portraying an exaggerated version of himself was unexpectedly funny. He wasn't afraid to ridicule his own fame and coming off as a self-absorbed musician. He should work on being more expressive but, otherwise, it was a good effort. But what would a story be without a little conflict? Kate McKinnon as the overbearing manager Debra is the closest thing we get to an antagonist in the film. You can always count on the SNL regular to deliver the goods, hamming it up as a money-grubbing, smarmy git. My favorite character has to be Joel Fry’s Rocky who's a legendary hype man for the ages. Every scene he was in left me cackling.

It's ideal to have such an animated and engaging cast especially when the narrative holding it together is flimsy at best.

A perpetual overthinker may be burdened with the glaring plot holes in the film. They never really get to the bottom of why the blackout happened in the first place and its oddly specific after-effects. There were certain reveals in the film that never reach its logical conclusion nor does it receive realistic repercussions. These head-scratching moments may become hard to ignore for the observant viewer.

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However, Yesterday does get by with a little help from the collaborative efforts of director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Richard Curtis, charming its way around these setbacks. They even gave us a surprisingly heartwrenching scene, which gutted me thinking about it in the real-world context. They've clearly done their research and were able to pay homage to one of the greatest bands in modern history. The film never deludes you into thinking it's a stellar spec-fic offering. Yesterday is a character study that pokes fun at the age-old musical journey from small-town obscurity to worldwide success, speeding up the process with a cheat sheet. The narrative itself may be sorely lacking and they weren't exactly reinventing the wheel with this concept but they took admirable risks. The movie isn't a stickler for specifics, content in being perfectly imperfect so it can explore beyond the confines of its genre. It's a feel-good flick reflecting the vibrant colors and sounds of the Beatles' more optimistic songs, encouraging viewers to live their truth, love more, and let that Good Day Sunshine in.

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P.S. Expect to be humming the songs long after you've left the cinema. These songs are ridiculously catchy even to the first-time listener.

I'd Recommend It To:

  • Hardcore Beatles fans that will most likely recognize the easter eggs, fandom jokes, and the entire soundtrack.
  • Beatles newbies who want to discover a new band in an entertaining manner.
  • Audiophiles in general who will appreciate Yesterday's sound design and Danny Boyle's musical taste.
  • Viewers who enjoy that dry Brit humor from Richard Curtis rom-coms such as Four Weddings And A Funeral, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones' Diary, Love Actually, and…you get the idea.
  • Both Ed Sheeran fans and haters who remember the singer's divisive (because he's got math-related albums, get it?) role in Game of Thrones, so you can see his comedic turn and possible redemption.
  • Musicians who can #relate to the frustrations of making it in the business.
  • Anyone who has ever dealt with overly controlling, micro-managing corporate executives.
  • Viewers who can commiserate with the painful pining for one's best friend.
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