In an age of social media, people are becoming so obsessed with the things of today that they are flat-out ignoring anything that came from the age before them. They don’t find interest in what arguably influenced the things they love just because it didn’t come from today, not from one of their favorite artists. The idea that something so relevant in history getting erased is unfortunately very relevant to today, and the concept has become the subject of the new musical comedy Yesterday, from Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire).
In modern day England, struggling musician Jack (Himesh Patel) is beginning to loose hope in launching his career, even though his manager and long-time best friend Ellie (Lily James) keeps pushing him to try. As he rides through town on his bike one night, a mysterious global blackout occurs, which causes him to get hit by a bus. He wakes up with everything seeming relatively normal, except for one change: no seems to know The Beatles.
Though he thinks its a prank from his friends at first, he soon realizes that he now lives in a world where it’s like The Beatles never existed. Seeing an opportunity, he begins singing their songs, with everyone believing he wrote them. This rockets him to global fame, eventually catching the attention of American music agent Debra Hammer (Kate McKinnon). But as his celebrity status grows, he faces a decision of which is more important to him: his career of plagiarism, or repairing his waining relationship with Ellie.
Unfortunately, what could have been a great satire is merely just passable. Yesterday has a handful of funny moments, mostly thanks to the chemistry and great performances of Patel and James. However, the film is ultimately dragged down by a story that strangely refuses to explore its rather ingenious concept any further than “world forgets Beatles, man gets famous off them.” It’s a storytelling choice that actually makes this film rather frustrating at times.
The one thing the film does have going for it is the talents of Himesh Patel, who pretty much nails his role as Jack. This is the first time he’s starred in a film, and the first time he’s sung for a film as well. He does an amazing job at both. He manages to make Jake a very likable character despite what he’s doing, which is not an easy task. Lily James almost gives, what is arguably, the best performance of her career, breathing life into the character of Ellie that makes her one of the best parts of the film.
The film also has a decent amount of humor that also helps make the film likable overall. Basically, the film was enjoyable. If you’re willing to let go of its shortcomings, it’s just a pleasant little comedy that can burn two hours of your life. Unfortunately, when you start to look at the bigger picture of what this film could’ve have been, you start to feel a little cheated. You start to ignore what it is and start to long for what it could’ve been. Some movies are good enough to make up for this, but this one wasn’t. There were just too many things wrong with it.
As great as Kate McKinnon is, she just didn’t work in this film. She doesn’t actually become the character she’s playing. She’s only playing herself; a woman who slowly spits out her lines and acts like a total weirdo just for the sake of laughs. It works in some roles, but in this one, it felt like she was in a completely different film. It’s actually hilarious how much her and Patel’s conversations represent the sharp divide between British humor and American humor.
The most frustrating thing about this film is how simple it is. It has a concept that could make for a great fantasy film; the idea of exploring a world where something so influential has vanished. Unfortunately, that film makes almost no attempt to dig any deeper into that potential. It merely uses it as a jumping off point for the lead character, and then proceeds to just forget about it until the film needs a joke every once in a while.
The fact that this film was fully prepared to use the concept to its full potential also makes it frustrating. It has some great satirical jokes about the state of our overly PC society and what is deemed acceptable and relatable in today’s world. But the film’s inability to fully embrace the potential means that the jokes don’t hit their intended targets, making for more than enough disappointing moments.
Yesterday manages to get by on its own merits, with some good moments of humor and great performances from Himesh Patel and Lily James. Unfortunately, the sheer thought of what it could’ve been compared to what it was manages to almost ruin that likability. It takes so many wrong turns that one can’t help but feel a little let down by its inability to fully embrace the satirical potential of its concept.