Those of you who have read my Origins posts probably saw that I did a bit about the 2019 film, Yesterday. Since then, I’ve not only seen it in the theater, but when I was in South Dakota I bought it on Blu-ray at Target. I thought it would be one of those movies I’d let lie instead of reviewing, but since seeing it again I feel like writing about it, the reason being I like it and I’m trying not to feel weird about that.
Suffolkian Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) has been trying really, really hard to break into the music business. He plays on street corners. He plays on boardwalks. He plays in pubs. No one listens to him, not even when he plays his best song, “Summer.” The bored squirrel mascot at the beach doesn’t want to listen, either.
It’s been ten years of heading nowhere, and Jack wants to give up. He’s ready to go full time at his job at the Price Star and forget about music. Or go back to his old teaching job because that at least is stable. After he plays at the Latitude Festival, which his best friend and manager, Ellie (Lily James) helpfully booked for him, he’s done.
Destiny doesn’t agree, however, and on the way home from the festival, there’s a sudden worldwide blackout and Jack gets hit by a bus. Jack wakes up in the hospital battered and bruised with a few teeth knocked out.
Once he’s more or less healed, Jack’s friends shower him with gifts; well, two gag gifts (wind-up teeth and a toy bus, natch) and a beautiful new guitar. Everyone wants Jack to play something, and he regales them with “Yesterday.” There wouldn’t be anything unusual about this, except that none of Jack’s friends have heard the song. They think he wrote it. They stare blankly when Jack says “Yesterday” is a Beatles song written by Paul McCartney.
Feeling a bit freaked, Jack rushes home and hops on his computer, where he Googles the Beatles. No matter what he types, the results are always about the insect, not the group. “Sergeant Pepper” shows him photos of vegetables. Then he types in “Rolling Stones” and is relieved to see that they pop up. So does Coldplay. Oasis, however, is a fertile spot in the middle of a desert. There are no Beatles albums on Jack’s shelf, either.
His mind whirling, Jack starts racking his memory for Beatles lyrics, which he plasters on his wall with Post-Its. Maybe he’ll try this music thing again. What can he lose, right? Only this time people listen. Big people, starting with Gavin (Alexander Arnold), who has a recording studio in his house by the railroad tracks. He lets Jack record five songs on a CD, which Jack hands out for free at the Price Star.
Then there’s Ed Sheeran (playing himself), who takes Jack on tour as his opening act, challenges him to a songwriting contest and loses because Jack plays “The Long And Winding Road.”
Next a wild-eyed record exec named Debra Hammer (Kate MacKinnon) comes sniffing around and offers Jack a fat contract with a huge buildup. He is, as John Lennon once said, at the “toppermost of the poppermost.” At first Jack goes along with everything, but his face says he doesn’t deserve any of it.
Not to brag or anything, but I think my Origins post pretty much nailed it. Yesterday is a cute movie; not a great one, but a cute one. On certain levels it gets what it should be. On other levels it’s not nearly enough. It was a little disappointing because there were so many things they could have done with the story. I wish it could have been more on the line of It’s A Wonderful Life, where everything goes back to how it was before, but it doesn’t quite do that. Not for all the characters, anyway.
I think the movie’s biggest problem is that it can’t decide if it wants to be a simple rom-com or get metaphysical. Not that it can’t do both, but the execution feels a little half-hearted. Sometimes when something big happens to Jack we see him silhouetted against giant screens reflecting his thoughts. Like when Jack finds out he’s becoming a big deal, we see flashes of headlines and news shows about it.
If this was a motif throughout the movie it would make more sense, but it only happens a couple of times. What we see more of is him picturing a Google or a DuckDuckGo search in his mind because he’s afraid the Beatles aren’t the world’s only disappearance, so obviously these companies gave the filmmakers some money.
The other problem is that the movie strips the Beatles songs of their social context. It might be nice hearing them, but they have little meaning to the story except that they’re helping Jack succeed. And the other characters question why the songs are they way they are, such as the inadvertant nonsense of “A Hard Day’s Night” or the firmly historical “Back In the USSR.” There’s no reason for Jack to write songs like this, because he’s not given to malopropism and probably wasn’t born when the Soviet Union collapsed.
However, Yesterday has its good points. The chemistry between Himesh Patel and Lily James as Jack and Ellie is adorable. You really believe these two have been friends with subtext for ages. Their friends can be annoying but they’re mostly in the background. The one exception is Rocky (Joel Fry), a charming goofball slacker who goes to California as Jack’s assistant, and I couldn’t help but like him.
Then there’s Debra, the one character I loved and groaned at all at the same time. She’s like the devil, always with a “Step into my web” look in her eyes. And she says the only line in the entire film that made me guffaw: “Stop in the name of money!”
Yes, she’s that basic, and it was way funnier than it should have been.
What struck me about this movie, for all its flaws, is that in a way it parallels the Beatles’ own story. Once things really start to get big, both the Beatles and Jack want to go home. About during the midpoint of the Beatles’ band history we got songs like “Penny Lane” and “Eleanor Rigby” that were inspired by Liverpool and the respective childhoods of the Fab Four. Jack finds himself drawn more than ever to places he’s known all his life and to Ellie, who represents sanity and reality. This is the one thing that keeps the movie somewhat focused, such as it is.
That’s why I can’t help but like Yesterday. It might not have a lot of substance, but there’s still something lovely about it.
Another post is on the way Monday, and the Van Johnson Blogathon is coming up on Thursday. Thanks for reading, all…
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