“Yesterday” Movie Review
Yesterday is the newest film from Academy Award-Winning director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting) and writer Richard Curtis (Love Actually). It stars newcomer Himesh Patel as Jack Malik, a down-on-his-luck musician who’s struggling to find an audience that cares to listen to his music enough to make him a real star. But one night after his manager Ellie (Lily James) drops him off to head home, electricity flicks off all over the world for a period of 12 seconds, and suddenly, no one can remember the infamous rock and roll group The Beatles – no one, that is, except Jack. With a newfound opportunity at his feet, Jack decides to take up writing the Beatles’ greatest hits, passing them off as his own in order to gain success. But all success comes at a price, and eventually, Jack must decide just how much this career means to him, and whether loving someone is worth the cost of doing the right thing.
I was never much of a Beatles fan growing up; I didn’t listen to their songs regularly, I never owned any of their albums (even the Greatest Hits ones), and Beatles music was never played in the car on family road trips so I never got much exposure to them until I was around high school age. That being said, I’ve always respected them as writers and musicians; it can’t be easy to be the first-ever mega-successful rock band in history and then still carry on that legacy so many years down the line. Plus, I did come to enjoy a fair number of Beatles songs after being introduced to them, and I’d like to think I have decent taste in music, so when I saw the brilliant trailer for Yesterday, I thought “there’s no way this can’t be good; it’s just too much of a winning concept.” Well, ladies and gentlemen, the concept may have been winning, but the execution was all but entirely lost.
To be fair, Yesterday is not an entirely bad film, and even features some decent performances, most notably from its two leading characters, but almost everything else in the film (apart from the Beatles covers you do actually get to hear) feels either half-baked or like they just popped them into the oven. There are character arcs in this movie that are set up and never take shape, there are entire moments that are meant to amp up the dramatic tension that ultimately mean nothing, and there’s a lesson in this film about honesty and ethics that somehow gets learned and also doesn’t get learned at the same time.
The main way this manifests in is in the shoddy script; it completely goes all over the place, and is in such a hurry to get to the part where everyone forgets about the Beatles that it fails to establish most of its more significant characters, and completely fails to establish why the Beatles are so important to our main character. I get the sense that the filmmakers just assumed that the Beatles’ music meant something to anyone who would watch this film, but failed to realize that even if it did, you still have to earn that if you want us to buy into the premise you’re pushing. As it happens, it’s quite difficult to buy into this premise at all, another significant reason being that apparently some other extremely popular things disappear along with the Beatles’ music, but there’s no indication of how or if any of it is somehow connected.
Of course, the scatter-brained editing doesn’t help this unfocused narrative to coalesce either. It seems like every 10 minutes, we’re jumping on the plane to a new location or new music festival. In a montage, this works, and Danny Boyle does manage to work in one of his signature montages, which is one of the better moments of the film; unfortunately, the whole film is treated like a montage from scene to scene, apart from the set-up of the main premise, and the movie moves way too fast as a result. We don’t get any time to see Jack or Ellie establish their apparently romantic subplot that was supposed to happen, which means we just get pulled into a will they/won’t they structure for the entire narrative, and to be totally honest, it’s as exhausting as Ellie eventually begins to feel it is. And although it’s a smaller, more nitpicky thing, the text on the screen being all different fonts, colors, and sizes, every time there was a location change began to wear pretty thin by the time we reached the third act.
The biggest failure in this film by far, however, is in how it fails to establish its characters as anything more than chess pieces in order to move a story along. Jack is the only one we actually get to know all that much, and we still don’t know enough about him or his apparent love for the Beatles to understand why this is so important to him. We know he wants to be a successful musician and that his job is mundane and he longs for the spotlight, but we don’t know if there’s any Beatles music he feels is subpar or how he feels about other music groups. This is to say nothing of James’ character, whom she somehow manages to make compelling even though she only has one thing to do: pine for Jack and say she won’t anymore. And even still, there are more characters in this movie that don’t get developed at all. Joel Fry (of Game of Thrones fame) plays Rocky, one of Jack and Ellie’s friends with a drinking problem, but it’s never addressed after Jack hires him to be a roadie for him.
To be fair, Yesterday is not a complete dumpster fire. The performances themselves are mostly good (even Ed Sheeran makes a surprisingly decent actor when he’s not distracting everybody in Game of Thrones armor) despite being taken from a script that doesn’t care about them as much as it does belting out a Beatles tune every 5 minutes, and to be honest, I could see this film being a lot more of a hot mess if Danny Boyle hadn’t been chosen to direct it (even with his weird dutch angle thing he loves to do so much). But, just not being a dumpster fire isn’t enough to boost a music movie over the likes of a Rocketman. You need to have compelling characters, good arcs, sharp writing, and perhaps most importantly, hire an editor who knows what they’re doing.
What you don’t need to have is an almost total lack of consequence or meaning behind your premise, so much so that when it seems like something in the plot might actually shake things up for the main character, it turns out it was really just a fear dream all along. In fact, you really don’t need to do this twice (even if the second time isn’t a dream at all but just a subversion of where things were heading). And what do you really, really not need to do? Do this three times. The movie sets up consequences for the lead character three times, and doesn’t follow through on any of them once. I won’t spoil how the climactic moment of the film plays out, but the moment immediately preceding it is that third time, and it could have been cut out of the movie entirely for how much it ultimately mattered.
Yesterday is the single movie this year that filled the absolute least of its potential, and it makes me very sad to write those words so confidently. Other films this year have been worse, there’s no doubt about it, but I didn’t expect as much from them either, so they disappointed me less. In the end, it’s Yesterday that ends up being perhaps the most disappointing movie I’ve seen so far, and decent performances with some solid covers of B-list Beatles hits (they never actually play Hey, Jude, by the way) won’t save it from a shoddy script, bare-bones characters, or choppy editing. It seems this film’s troubles truly are here to stay.
I’m giving “Yesterday” a 6.2/10
- The Friendly Film Fan
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Film critic in my free time. Film enthusiast in my down time. Writer for Bitesize Breakdown.