When You’re the Only One Who Remembers “Yesterday”
“Yesterday” Review by Amy Kellestine
Have you ever wondered what the present would be like if a detail in the past had been different? Like, what if you never met that crazy ex-boyfriend? What if you had never spent the summer in Paris after high school? The bizarre but likable “Yesterday” takes that concept a step further to imagine a world where it seems everyone has forgotten about the existence of the incomparable English rock and roll band, The Beatles. Everyone, that is, except for Jack Malik (Himesh Patel).
Jack is a struggling singer-songwriter who is about to give up on making it big. He’s biking home from his last gig when the power goes out across the entire planet, and he gets hit by a bus and ends up in a coma. When he wakes up, there are no answers about what caused the mass power outage, but he quickly realizes he’s the only one who remembers The Beatles or any of their music. So instead of quitting music, or continuing to play his own tired material, he begins touring the open mic and local bar circuit with Beatles songs and finally gets his big break.
This quest for fame storyline is interwoven with standard rom-com elements. On the romance side, his manager and best friend, Ellie (Lily James), has adored him for awhile and is clearly waiting for him to make the first move. The comedy side includes his stoner friend turned roadie, Rocky (Joel Fry), who helps Jack bumble along as he navigates stardom, and Jack’s affable but clueless parents (Meera Syal and Sanjeev Bhaskar).
Patel, James, and Fry all do a wonderful job portraying their characters. Ed Sheeran as a fictionalized version of himself, and Kate McKinnon as Jack’s money-hungry corporate manager, are both delightful.
But unfortunately, there are too many flaws to call this film good. First and foremost, there are too many unexplained components in the plot to go along with the crazy construct. For example, even though Jack believes he is the only one who remembers The Beatles and their music, two other mystery characters appear virtually out of nowhere who also remember. Yet it’s not clear why they do.
Another problem is collective amnesia around other cultural anchors, including Coca-Cola, cigarettes, Harry Potter, and the English rock band, Oasis. The actual band Oasis once infamously declared they were bigger than The Beatles, but otherwise, there is nothing tying any of these disappearances together. I can handle a bizarre foundational premise, but the film’s details need to work to strengthen it, not detract and further confuse. I expected more from writer Richard Curtis (“Four Weddings and a Funeral”, “Notting Hill”) and director Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire”, “Trainspotting”, “28 Days Later”).
The movie also completely neglects The Beatles’ massive influence on pop culture. They changed how music was created, produced, and consumed, not to mention the whole British Invasion of the US that was part of the ripple started by the Fab Four. Remove The Beatles from history, and the world would be missing more than the catchy chorus of “All You Need is Love.”
“Yesterday” is a feel-good movie with a half-baked premise and a number of flaws. The songs and laughs are good, but they can’t shield audiences from the nonsensical problems happening on screen. If you like what “Mamma Mia” did to hits by ABBA, then you might enjoy “Yesterday.” Otherwise, you might be better off dusting off an old Beatles album.
Amy Kellestine is an educator, engineer, Arati life coach and entrepreneur living in Edmonton, Alberta. She spends her free time camping, gardening, and volunteering for causes such as Cystic Fibrosis and nature conservation. She is a devoted mother and is passionate about helping others and writing.