Movie Review: Yesterday

The latest cinematic take on pop music’s various legends has hit our big screens. While BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY told the albeit pink-washed story of the life of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, and ROCKETMAN told a somewhat fantastical version of the life (so far) of Elton John, YESTERDAY, which features the music of the Beatles, is not exactly about John, Paul, George and Ringo. Rather, it’s a fantasy story about what might happen if the Fab Four had never existed except that one person knows all their songs.

That person is Jack Malik (Himesh Patel, TV’s EASTENDERS), a struggling musician from Suffolk. After years of playing on empty boardwalks and in near-empty bars, Jack decides the time has come to pack it in and get a teaching job, though Ellie (Lily James, MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN; BABY DRIVER; DARKEST HOUR; TV’s DOWNTON ABBEY), his best friend and business manager, thinks he should stick with it longer because miracles can happen. And just then a miracle does happen. The planet experiences a 12-second blackout and, when the lights come back on again, Jack soon discovers that the Beatles never were. He, though, remembers all their songs. That knowledge sends Jack on a magical mystery tour where he quickly becomes the hottest singer-songwriter in the music industry with the help of Ed Sheeran, who plays a self-deprecating version of himself, and his new manager, the rapacious Debra Hammer (Kate McKinnon, FERDINAND; OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY; GHOSTBUSTERS (2016); TV’s SNL).

If you’re looking for a feel-good movie with a great soundtrack, YESTERDAY is it. It’s a testament to the fabulous writing skills of the lads from Liverpool that their songs are just as catchy, relevant and emotive today as they were when they were first sung 50-odd years ago. Jack makes for delightful anti-hero as he struggles with not only the knowledge that he’s deceiving the world by passing off their songs as his own but the fame that comes with it. That’s really him singing and playing the guitar and piano too. Unlike most musical films where the actors lip-sync to a studio recorded version of themselves, Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE; STEVE JOBS) chose to film Patel singing and playing live. If you’ve ever had to perform in front of your family (and I did many times when I was young), you will find the scene where Jack introduces “his” newest composition, “Let It Be”, to his parents and their friend very funny.

As enjoyable as the film is, don’t examine it too closely because you’ll notice that the screenplay by Richard Curtis (MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN; FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL), and based on a story by himself and Jack Barth (TV’s THE SIMPSONS episode “A Fish Called Selma”), is lazily written with plot holes popping up every few minutes. The biggest problem with the story is the underlying premise that the songs were what made the Beatles famous the world over. Wrong! Their harmonies, their charisma, their hair styles, Brian Epstein, the time and a whole lot more made them the enduring cultural icons they are even today. While their influence on the band Oasis is humorously dealt with in the film, their influence on the British Invasion is completely ignored. How many bands other than Oasis owe or owed their existence to the Fab Four? What about all the other things they influenced from fashion to drugs? The film’s boy-gets-girl Hollywood ending is equally disappointing. I would have written it completely differently where he can still hook up with Ellie without having to publicly embarrass her in front of 90,000 fans at Wembley Stadium.

YESTERDAY is like eating a bag of delicious popcorn and finding too many unpopped kernels sitting at the bottom. You’re satisfied but not completely.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, August 23rd, 8:30 am HK time!

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