Yesterday - Review
A bloated disappointment that misplaces its strongest players.
Yesterday is designed to please. Judgement be damned; if you criticize this film, you’re a hater! Ignore the fact that Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting) is a brilliant director and uses transitions that look like microtransactions for iPhone editing software, or that the script is filled with so many plot holes it seems as if they’re making it up as they go; ignore all that. The one thing I think we can all agree on, Beatles fans or not, is that Ed Sheeran should not have had so much screen time.
Yesterday’s script (from the writer of Love Actually) gambles on a simple concept: Electricity goes out around the world for 12 seconds, and the entire population forgets the Beatles, save for one man. Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), a former schoolteacher and current struggling musician, is the only one who remembers, and decides to pass their songs as his own in an effort to boost his drooping career. So follow themes of betrayal, lying to oneself, and fame, but all of them pale in comparison to the defiance of logic the film demand in order to glean any enjoyment.
In Yesterday, Paul McCartney and John Lennon were just good lyricists. Jack spends hours pouring over his memory trying to recall what Eleanor Rigby picked up, who the benefit is for, or the regal simplicity of songs like “She Loves You.” What it forgets is that the Beatles didn’t just write poetry; they wrote songs, with music and instrumentation that pushed as many boundaries as their melodies. As Jack plays acoustic renditions of “In My Life” and “Yesterday,” it makes sense. These are intimate moments, meant to be delivered to one person, or a small group, as a bombshell. The solo electric guitar rendition of “Back in the USSR” does not fare as well, and that’s the song that gets Sheeran’s (and the plot’s) attention.
In prime use of its guest star, the script calls for a songwriting contest between Jack and Ed, one which we already know Jack has in the bag. The mistake of a situation like this is that it mistakes Sheeran for a culturally-beloved musical touchstone, a “One Man Only” artist, when in reality he’s one of the biggest offenders in the group-songwriting trend. It’s hard to see his involvement as anything but a lazy cash grab for those wondering why Yesterday’s star isn’t a white guy, exacerbated by the fact that his performance is anything but the shot of passion the film needs.
At a few moments in the long and winding road, Yesterday conveniently remembers that it’s a movie. Interactions between Jack and his manager/love interest Ellie (Lily James) are heartfelt, and authentically stilted. Two friends who don’t know what it’s like to love anyone else is an interesting rock to mine, but Across the Universe sort of already did that; Yesterday needs to be about more. This is supported by a series of characters who crash the story for purposes unrelated to the main narrative (Kate McKinnon, Ed Sheeran, again). Yet even as we’re given a chance to indulge in these themes, namely the central lie that helps and hurts Jack, the film crescendos with an idea it tossed up in the first 20 minutes. Remember normalcy? That’s right, the thing Jack fought so hard to escape and even rejected along with his one true love? He gets it back, along with the respect of his friends and fury from a poorly utilized Kate McKinnon. Yesterday sets up hurdles for its characters to jump over, and a world that’s more than a little intriguing to music fans, but in the name of Love Actually, the main characters will end up together in a cottage as “Hey Jude” plays in the background! Roll credits.