The second “sleeper” film of the summer, after “Late Night,” is “Yesterday,” an upbeat story of love and the Beatles.
Helmed by Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire,” “Shallow Grave,” “Trainspotting”) from a script by Richard Curtis (“Notting Hill,” “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Love Actually”) “Yesterday” has an improbable plot that presents as fact the idea that everyone in the world has forgotten about the Beatles, except for Jack Malik (Himesh Patel of the BBC’s “Eastenders”).
Don’t get hung up on why the knowledge of the Beatles and their song catalogue has disappeared. It’s not just their music, as Oasis (the band) has disappeared, as well, along with Coca Cola, Harry Potter and cigarettes. It all seems to have happened during a 12-second world-wide blackout, during which our hero is on his bicycle and gets hit by a bus that cannot see him because its headlights have gone dark.
Starring alongside new-comer Himesh Patel as Jack is Lily James as Ellie, his first manager and long-time admirer. Lily is recognizable from “Baby Driver” and her appearance in “Mama Mia.” She has just the right combination of fresh-faced admiration and loyalty to make her the perfect grade school teacher (which she is) and, eventually—although he is slow to recognize this fact—the girl of Jack’s dreams.
Along the way we are treated to a small appearance by Ed Sheeran as himself, a part he got after Chris Martin of “Cold Play” turned it down. Sheeran hears Jack sing a Beatles song on television and pops around to his Suffolk home to give him a shot at stardom (Sheeran really is from Suffolk). The scene with Jack’s father in the kitchen is pure Curtis and very realistic, as are Jack’s parents’ reactions throughout his climb from unknown to world-famous singer of Beatles songs.
As the press kit for the film put it, “Ultimately, this film is a great example of the power of song…To reconnect with the power of music is a fantastic treat.” One of the amusing points made by the film is the difficulty of remembering all the lyrics to a favorite song. In this film, that song is “Eleanor Rigby.” It proves to be one of the most difficult to re-construct from memory, after all Beatles tunes have disappeared from the globe.
Jack has been struggling to make his name as a singer/songwriter for years, but his own composition, “Summer Song,” just isn’t up to Beatles standards. As the villainess of the piece (Kate McKinnon of “Saturday Night Live”) put it, “I hated it, but I wasn’t interested enough in it to listen to it again to figure out why.”
Now that Jack has pinned down his failure to thrive to his songs, but not his singing, armed with the Biggest Hits of the Sixties and beyond, he completely blows the competition out of the water. There is even an impromptu song-writing competition with Sheeran where Jack’s contribution of “The Long and Winding Road” is judged the winner. He seems to compose it in 10 or 15 minutes. (An interesting side note: the song that Sheeran wanted to contribute at that point was initially received with great enthusiasm—until his record company stepped in and said they needed it for his next album, at which point Sheeran composed another original work that runs at film’s end.)
Another role in the film is that of Jack’s roadie, Nick (Harry Michell). As the plot put it, “Nick is famously a world-class moron.” In real life, Michell was initially considered for the lead role of Jack because of his musical ability. When he auditioned he was ill and barely able to sing, but he was good enough that the part of Nick—comic relief—was his.
In part, the film is a hymn to the power of marketing. The scene where Jack is meeting in a board room with the marketing team that will decide how to present “his” songs to the world featured a dynamite monologue from the actor playing the lead marketer, who is, in reality, a well-known comedian. LaMorne Morris, the marketing guru, knocked it out of the park in shooting down such esoteric titles as “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in favor of “One Man Only.” The room used was loaned to Boyle for one day’s shoot because of his affiliation with WME and Cooper Wave Louise in L.A. and the W Hotel also makes an appearance. The rooftop scene of Jack performing at the Pier Hotel (a real Suffolk hotel) conjures up images of the real Beatles performing “Get Back” and “Don’t Let Me Down” on the roof of Apple Records.
Patel does all his own singing and glowing references to his audition, when he sang “Back in the U.S.S.R.” were made, with the comment that “Danny’s approach is all about the performance; that’s what we were there to catch.” In other words, no lip-syncing.
One small criticism. The film is a bit over-long. As it goes on past 2 hours we meet John Lennon. I wondered if removing the John Lennon meet might have brought the film in at 120 minutes or less, because that would have improved it, and the meeting with the doppelganger for John is not really that central to the plot until they give him this line: “Tell the girl that you love that you love her and tell the truth to everyone whenever you can.”
In other words, not a good movie choice for Donald J. Trump.