Yesterday imagines an alternate reality where The Beatles never existed. During a global blackout, struggling musician Jack Malik (played by EastEnders‘ Himesh Patel), gets hit by a bus and awakes to the realisation that he is the only person in the world who remembers the Fab Four. He’s yet to have his big break so hastily recalls the songs from memory to launch himself into the big time. This costly concept for a crowd-pleasing musical was dreamt up by Jack Barth with a screenplay written by Richard Curtis and directed by Danny Boyle.
As the film celebrates The Beatles’ music with hits galore playing out via Patel’s endearing pop performance, the intriguing what-if scenario satirises the music industry. Kate McKinnon is on fire as an obnoxious manager who rebrands Malik, treating him as a commodity rather than a human being, and even more surprisingly Ed Sheeran gamely pokes fun at himself as a bit of a narcissist. The film is at its most fun when playing with the musical elements and the humour almost writes itself when it comes to a quick-fire song competition between Sheeran and Malik.
And yet, Curtis insists on leaning on the same old, tired romantic comedy tropes for an unrequited love story between Malik and his life-long friend and supportive part-time manager Ellie (Lily James as charming as ever). Enter the flimsily written group of quirky archetypes who make dull jokes at Malik’s expense and an unbearable romance that kind of comes off as a tad manipulative. Sure, there’s lots to say about the cost of fame and balancing a rewarding home-life while also supporting your local community but the film doesn’t manage to pull that off as delightfully as it thinks it does. Malik’s friendship with Joel Fry’s bumbling roadie tugs at the heart-strings far more than the central love story.
Curtis hasn’t created the darkest timeline by any means, but by taking the easy route down a long and winding lane of nostalgia Yesterday doesn’t make the most of its magical mystery. It’s part filler, part killer, occasionally surprising and enjoyably silly.