Review: ‘Yesterday’ Offers a Dark, but Fun Peek Into a World Sans Beatles
“Take a sad song and make it better” – a generation grew up crooning to the songs of The Beatles. The band has words and music for every occasion, every emotion. So, when director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Richard Curtis (the brain behind the timeless Notting Hill and Bridget Jones’ Diary) paired up for Yesterday, I couldn’t have been more excited. Entwined in a rom-com is a tribute to one of the greatest rock bands, and the film does take you on a trip down memory lane.
The curtains open with the protagonist Jack Mallik (Himesh Patel), who lives in the quaint town of Suffolk with his parents. He aspires to make it big in the music industry, but the only people who swing by coffee shops to listen to him are his friends. His childhood buddy Ellie (Lily James), who gave her heart to Jack when he sang Oasis’ Wonderwall at a school competition, acts as his manager.
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Things take an unexpected turn when the world comes to a standstill because of a global blackout. Jack has an unfortunate accident, and when he wakes up in a hospital, a shock awaits him. The Beatles has faded into oblivion! No wonder when Jack hums “Will you still feed me when I’m 64?”, Ellie has the most unbelievable question – “Why 64?”. Jack races to Google, but even feverish searches fail to find any trace of the band.
It’s not just Ellie. During a picnic, as the golden sun sets on the sea Jack picks up his guitar and sings Yesterday to his friends. People go about their daily business but the camera zooms in on Jack and his pals. It feels as if they, along the viewers, allow the melancholy of the song to penetrate the senses. It’s a beautiful scene, each character agreeing to the lines ‘I believe in yesterday’. None of them, however, have any memory of The Beatles, and despite Jack trying to convince them that this is one of the greatest songs ever made, they insist on calling it an ‘obscure band’.
The dramatic turn of events works to Jack’s advantage, and by owning The Beatles’ lyrics he becomes the heartthrob of millions overnight. He appears on TV shows to promote “his” songs, and lo and behold, Ed Sheeran lands up at his home one day. A tour takes Jack to Moscow. As he strums the guitar to blare out Back in the USSR, the crowd goes berserk. Such is the power of the Fab Four’s music! Even Ed Sheeran bows before him, saying, “You are Mozart and I Salieri.”
With Jack Mallik rocketing to success, Deborah Hammer (Kate McKinnon), Sheeran’s manager, perches on him. She lures Jack into the glitzy world of money, and with a brilliant expression urges him to drink the “poisoned chalice of fame”. In a world that swears by I’m in Love With The Shape of You, Jack is forced to modify Hey Jude to Hey Dude. An ad executive brushes aside the title of his album Abbey Road because it’s just another lane.
Every film has a twist, and Yesterday is no exception. Two characters suddenly surface in Jack’s life, turning his world upside down. As the young singer struggles to perfect each and every Beatles song, we see him battling with a conflict – can I ever be as good as John, Paul, George and Ringo? When asked about the inspiration behind Hey Jude, Jack fumbles. After all, songs can be borrowed, but not the stories behind them.
The romance between Jack and Ellie is sweet, but stretched. Despite having a novel concept, Yesterday falls prey to the tropes of a cliched rom-com. Some tears, a few heartbreaks, a boring platform scene and the end, rob the movie of its charm. However, there’s quite a bit of humour in the storytelling, and the credit goes to Curtis. Notting Hill and 500 Days of Summer remain my favourite rom-coms, and Yesterday, too, touches the heart at times.
Danny Boyle has a ear for great music, and Trainspotting was his breakthrough. The soundtracks were a testament to UK’s alternative music legacy. Yesterday is also a melodious journey, the evergreen songs providing a link between the past and the present.
Himesh Patel is quite convincing as Jack. Like most of us, he has grown up with this band, and he cannot accept the fact that Strawberry Fields Forever has ceased to exist. He snaps at his parents (the very impressive Sanjeev Bhaskar and Meera Syal) for saying Let Him Be instead of Let It Be. Ellie is Jack’s anchor, and Lily James rules in most of the frames. We loved Kate McKinnon as the insensitive and power-hungry manager.
“A world without The Beatles is infinitely worse” – this line from the film sum up what 600 odd words might fail to convey. My parents are huge fans of the band, so the band vanishing means a childhood being wiped away. A world without Hey Jude, Yesterday, Let It Be, is a world shrouded in darkness. And, hey, it’s not just The Beatles, there’s no Harry Potter in Boyle’s universe either!