Yesterday (2019) — a movie review


I watched the movie Yesterday on the Lido deck of the Carnival Glory just a few weeks ago. We were delayed leaving New Orleans (for reasons never explained, now that I think about it) and still weren’t in warmer waters, so it was pretty cold out on deck by the swimming pool. My wife and I were huddled under borrowed blankets while we watched the movie. At times, it got very cold. Bitterly cold. A wet cold that seeps into the bones and sets up a homestead.

Still, we remained on our deck chairs, watching this movie until its conclusion. Shivering.

There, in a nutshell, you have my review of this movie. Of course I liked it. For starters, I’m a diehard fan of The Beatles. I know that I’m taking risks for admitting this fact, since there are so few of us in the world. I’m not saying that I liked every song in the Beatles’ catalogue. There are some that I’d rather not hear again. But, I do love the majority of the output generated by the lads from Liverpool. Sure, a bit of the solo stuff put out is okay, too, but, in my opinion, the curious alchemy achieved by John, Paul, George and Ringo together was never equaled, let alone surpassed.

When I heard the premise of this movie, I knew I would watch it someday. I didn’t know it would be on the cold deck of a cruise ship, but some things can’t be helped.

The premise? Unsuccessful singer-songwriter Jack Malik wakes up one day and is apparently the only person in the world who remembers the Beatles and their songs. He plagiarizes the songs and is suddenly catapulted to fame.

How could I resist?

Of course, that’s the premise, but not the entire story. At its heart, this is a romantic comedy, a love story. We know how those plots work, don’t we? Boy has girl, boy loses girl, then boy gets girl back. That’s the way these things usually go. In fact, this sort of plot may even be considered cliché. There’s a reason why some plots become cliché, however: Because they work.

Oh, there are examples that work even though the guy doesn’t get the girl in the end, but they are the exceptions I think. Examples? Um . . . (500) Days of Summer comes to mind. But, no, that’s not a good example because I liked everything about that movie except for the ending. The Last American Virgin, maybe, but that’s reaching all the way back to 1982, and I’ve rewatched that movie only once during the following almost 40 years. And I hated the ending. Cast Away? Tom Hanks doesn’t end up with Helen Hunt in that one. Come to think of it, though, I’ve never watched that one again, not even once. And I don’t think I cared about them reuniting when I first watched that overrated movie.

I stand by my original statement. My favorite movies are the ones in which our lovers end up together. Smart money suggests those are your favorites as well. Sure, we may occasionally enjoy a movie that takes the unexpected—perhaps more realistic—route, but most of us want the happily-ever-after ending. We want Richard Gere to carry Debra Winger through a factory or fall in love with a Julia Roberts prostitute. It’s not about being realistic. It’s about fantasy.

How else would you describe a story about a parallel universe where the Beatles never existed? Of course, it’s a fantasy. If the ending is a cliché, that’s all right, too. People who love Beatles’ music are often okay with a sappy love story.

Yesterday was directed by Danny Boyle. You know him. He’s the guy responsible for 28 Days Later, Trainspotting, and Slumdog Millionaire. I guess you might consider him a successful director.

I saw 28 Days Later, and believe it greatly influenced Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead comic book (and, subsequently, the AMC television show). Plus, it’s where I saw Cillian Murphy before I started watching Peaky Blinders. However, I’m ashamed to admit to never watching Trainspotting or Slumdog Millionaire. After watching this flick, I may have to rectify that mistake.

The protagonist of this movie is Jack Malick (Himesh Patel), who is trying very hard to become a successful musician while still working his day job. His manager is Ellie Appleton (Lily James), who he has known since he was a child and who, quite frankly, he takes for granted. You see, as is usually the case in these things, Jack sees Ellie as a friend, not as a woman. And, Ellie is so obviously in love with Jack, even though he’s not very good.

Sounds familiar, yes?

During a worldwide blackout (ala Revolution, maybe), Jack gets hit by a bus. When he revives, he’s in an alternate reality where the Beatles never existed. After recovering, he sings the song “Yesterday” for his friends, none of whom have ever heard the song. As Jack realizes that none of the world remembers the Beatles, he begins performing their songs as his own. This leads to his recording a demo with a local record producer, and eventually getting invited by Ed Sheeran to be his opening act in Moscow.

Ed Sheeran, in a role originally intended for Coldplay’s Chris Martin (who turned it down), turns in a bravura performance as a version of himself. He even loses a songwriting duel with Jack, who turns in a version of “The Long and Winding Road” to win. On the Sheeran tour, Jack performs his cover of “Back in the USSR,” though, as Sheeran points out, the USSR was disbanded before Jack was born. Great stuff.

Sheeran’s agent (at least in this movie), Debra Hammer (a pitch-perfect Kate McKinnon) attempts to capitalize on Jack’s buzz. She signs him to her label and attempts to make him a worldwide phenom.

As Jack is leaving for Los Angeles, Ellie confesses that she’s always been in love with him. Having trouble remembering the lyrics, Jack makes a trip to Liverpool, visiting the grave of Eleanor Rigby, Strawberry Field, and Penny Lane. Ellie joins him during his visit to Liverpool, and they share a romantic kiss. Ellie tells him that she’s not interested in a one-night stand, so they go no further. Jack returns to Los Angeles.

Jack is poised on the brink of superstardom. He convinces his record label to launch his album with a rooftop concert like the one the real Beatles performed on top of Apple Records. In the meantime, he meets two other people who remember the Beatles the way he does. They are grateful that he’s keeping the music alive. They also give him the address of John Lennon, who’s still alive in this alternate reality.

Jack makes the journey to meet Lennon (an uncredited Robert Carlyle), who, unlike his real-life counterpart, managed to live to old age, having lived a happy life with his wife. John encourages Jack to pursue the one he loves and to always tell the truth.

Which, of course, Jack does. He admits to having plagiarized the music, even though no one on this Earth can prove it. He uploads all the songs from his album free to the internet, then publicly admits his love for Ellie. He and Ellie marry and reproduce and begin to have their happily ever after.

Sure, I just gave you the entire plot of the movie. So what? It won’t really ruin the experience for you. That’s pretty much how you expected it to end. It’s certainly how you want it to end.

I applaud the choice of casting an actor of Indian descent in the lead. I thought it was fitting considering the Beatles’ own pilgrimage to India and George Harrison’s fascination with sitar music. Patel is a likeable lead in the story. The humor is veddy, veddy British, dry and caustic. If you enjoy British humor, this is right up your alley. As a confirmed Anglophile, it was certainly up mine. Coupled with the Beatles music, I definitely felt at home.

I loved this movie. It’s a modern-day parable, imbued with the magic of the music it glorifies. It was engaging enough to keep me watching while freezing my ass off on the Lido deck.

Firewater’s Hey-Dude Report Card: A


I recommend this one to Beatles fans of all ages. It’s good stuff.

3 thoughts on “Yesterday (2019) — a movie review

  1. This is quite a sell. I hope you didn’t have an lasting consequences from sitting in a wet chill… presumably on deck-chairs. I may even change my mind about watching it!

    Liked by 1 person

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