Listening to the Beatles’ entire catalog against a blank screen is probably better than 90 percent of movies out there today. That said, Yesterday generally makes the most of the iconic tracks at its disposal.
This crowd-pleasing comedy from director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) requires an outrageous suspension of disbelief, yet finds an endearing rhythm for those who buy into its loopy theoretical premise.
Fab Four devotees will enjoy plenty of nostalgic value in this unabashed celebration of their greatness, while a younger generation could develop an appreciation some 55 years after their career-defining showcase for Ed Sullivan.
The story follows Jack (Himesh Patel), a struggling London street musician who’s gifted with a guitar and a keyboard, yet ready to give up despite the pleas of his manager and kind-of girlfriend (Lily James). Things turn during a brief worldwide power outage, during which Jack’s bike is struck by a bus. When he wakes up, he’s apparently the only person who can remember the Beatles or their songs. Google searches turn up nothing.
After processing this mysterious phenomenon, Jack starts jotting down lyrics and passes off the songs as his own, putting him on the cusp of fame and fortune. Yet with his conscience weighing heavily, he almost forgets that all you need is love.
Patel drives the film with a magnificent big-screen debut. Besides demonstrating some obvious musical chops (both vocal and instrumental, even if there’s trickery involved), the British television actor’s expressive portrayal generates a rooting interest for his lovable loser with a big heart.
The screenplay by Richard Curtis (Love Actually) generates some offbeat charm amid its eye-rolling gimmicks. It’s not worth dwelling upon the logic of the fundamental premise. The payoff at the end is predictable, but not before a few amusing twists on the rags-to-riches formula.
The film could have benefited from a grittier approach that wasn’t so slick, which might have better matched Jack’s wish-fulfillment fantasy suggested by his working-class idols. And it hardly digs beneath the surface in exploring artistic integrity, musical history, and the intersection of art and commerce.
Although it’s slight and silly, Yesterday establishes an endearing connection — a harmony, if you will — between its protagonist and the audience, as it spotlights the enduring legacy of the Beatles in the 21st century.