News had it that Danny Boyle was so impressed with Richard Curtis’s script of the idea of a singer rising to fame performing the songs of The Beatles, these songs wiped out of the minds of everybody in the world except for him that he agreed to direct the film without a second thought. Boyle has obviously not seen many French films like the one in which all the minds were similarly erased on the memory of the songs of French singer Johnny Halliday. Coincidence maybe? Or plagiarized premise, it will be difficult to prove. Still YESTERDAY has enough differences in the story to stand on its own. And it is directed by well-respected Danny Boyle who made 28 DAYS LATER and SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE and his best film, TRAINSPOTTING.
Jack Malik (newcomer Himesh Patel) is a struggling singer-songwriter from Clacton-on-Sea, England whose dreams of fame are rapidly fading. He has the unfailing devotion and support of his childhood best friend, Ellie (Lily James) and his band. Then, after a freak bus accident during a mysterious global blackout, Jack wakes up with his guitar broken. When his friends buy him a new one as a recovery preset, he sings to them the Beatles hit “Yesterday” only to find out that nobody else on Earth besides himself remember The Beatles.
With the assistance of his steel-hearted American agent, Debra, Jack rises to global fame by performing songs by the band. However, as his star rises, he risks losing Ellie — the one person who always believed in him. The romance between him and Ellie makes the other part of the story. Jack starts feeling guilty. But director Boyle shows Jack’s guilt is fear of being caught rather than of theft of the Beatles’s songs, though he finally confesses at the end, something that goes against the trend of his behaviour.
I am not a fan of Boyle’s feel-good movies like this one or SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. I prefer Boyle’s darker works. As such, YESTERDAY’s best moments are those with Jack’s agent the over enthusiastic Debra, brilliantly played by Kate McKinnon. She paints a darker side of the recording industry lampooning it occasionally.
The film is given a tremendous boost by the inclusion of singer Ed Sheeran, playing himself. Shreeran discovers Jack and gets him to open for him on his Russian tour. Sheeran has quite the large supporting role in the film so Sheeran fans should make it a point to catch the singer doing his sly acting bit.
One of the pleasures of watching YESTERDAY is to admire once again the genius of The Beatles as song after song of their hits are played. Paul McCartney has a cameo in the film as does a fictitious John Lennon (with a look alike actor playing him).
But despite Boyle’s enthusiasm that shows throughout the film, the film is highly predictable, particularly the romance and the ending. The humour with his family is also familiar fare.