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Movie Review: Yesterday Imagines a World Where The Beatles Didn’t Exist

A world without music is unthinkable. To take away music, for all of its beauty, its soothing effects on the soul, and even its ability to bring people together and dance or rock out, it would be tragic. Imagine then, a world without The Beatles. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. The Fab Four. Those lads from Liverpool. It is no exaggeration to say that their music changed the world and that generations of fans have grown up singing along to the music of the Beatles. But if you took them away, how would the world survive? That simple premise is what the film Yesterday is all about.

Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a struggling musician in Suffolk, trying to get by even as his childhood friend and manager Ellie (Lily James) keeps encouraging to hang in there. Jack has been trying to make it in the music industry, performing in little pubs and outdoor festivals, but with little success. One night, the lights go out around the world for a few minutes and Jack ends up being hit by a bus. When he wakes up, Jack has lost some teeth but Ellie and their friends try to raise his spirits by asking him to sing one of his favorite songs. He sings the classic “Yesterday,” which leaves his friends breathless, seemingly hearing the song for the first time.

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Going online, Jack is shocked to find that the whole world seemingly doesn’t know The Beatles (as well as Coca-Cola and the band Oasis). He then decides to start performing Beatles songs and passing them off as songs he himself had written. Fame inevitably finds Jack because of the quality of the Beatles songs, and he goes viral on the internet while also gaining the friendship of fellow singer Ed Sheeran. He also ends up under contract with the manipulative and money-hungry Debra Hammer (Kate McKinnon) who sees Jack as nothing more than her next paycheck. Finally achieving the success he has long dreamed of, Jack learns that Ellie has begun dating someone else. Can he win her back while still bringing the music of the Fab Four to the world or will he be exposed as someone who passed himself off as the songwriter of their music?

The best way to describe Yesterday would probably be an imaginary story that wonders how the music of the Beatles would be appreciated in the social media-driven world. Patel’s performance as the down-on-his-luck grandson of immigrants in England feels earnest and honest because the UK is so diverse now and hammers home the message that the music of the Beatles is universal. His friendship/relationship with James’ Ellie comes with all the heartbreak that fame supposedly brings and they make you want to root for them.

McKinnon plays Hammer so over the top that it’s ridiculous, yet she also provides a counterbalance to the good vibes that are prevalent in the rest of the cast. Even Sheeran, playing a fictionalized version of himself, is funny in Yesterday as he declares himself the Salieri to Jack’s Mozart thanks to the Beatles’ discography at his fingertips.

But let’s not kid ourselves, the real star of this film remains the music of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. For a band that was active for just about a decade, the band released a staggering amount of excellent music that still resonates almost 50 years later. Just the premise of “What if the Beatles didn’t exist?” is so ridiculous that it took a great filmmaker in the form of Danny Boyle and the right script and actors to bring that premise to life onscreen. No spoilers here, but there’s a particular scene near the film’s climax that will leave you shaken, and possibly in tears. A brilliant scene that triggers Jack’s ultimate decision on what to do with the music and with Ellie.

The songs, and they are many, will leave you singing or humming along to them. That’s just the power of the Beatles. “Yesterday,” for its melancholy, triggers the change in Jack’s status quo while also symbolizing the innocence of years gone by or when the Beatles themselves were young. There are key moments of the film surrounding several Beatles songs, particularly “Eleanor Rigby,” Back in the USSR,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “The Long and Winding Road,” “Help!,” “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” and a very funny take on “Hey Jude.” That’s just some of the songs used, and will always be far too little for a nearly two-hour long film to encapsulate. If anything, Yesterday should get you listening to Beatles songs once more, whether it be your own collection or a loved one’s because, let’s face it, this is music meant to be enjoyed, shared, and loved for generations to come.

Main Image Courtesy of United International Pictures

 

About the Author:

Jason Inocencio was once the Digital Editor of adobo magazine who still loves seeing great campaigns from all over the world. He proudly shows off his love for all kinds of geeky things, whether it be movies, TV shows, comics, sports, or trivia.

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