Many songs by The Beatles are incredibly simple but carry a great deal of charm and emotional weight. This is what made them the greatest musicians in the history of rock and roll. “Yesterday” is very similar with likable characters, magnificent sequences of musical creativity and, yes, enough good music to make anyone who views this film want to listen to as many Beatles records, CDs, cassettes and 8-tracks as humanly possible.
The film follows down on his luck musician Jack Malik, played by Himesh Patel, who discovers that, after being struck by a bus during a worldwide blackout, he is the only person who remembers the songs of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. With some of the greatest songs of all time in his memory, Jack starts performing The Beatles’ work as his own and becomes an international sensation. However, as the fame consumes Jack, he risks losing his friend Ellie, played by Lily James, the only person who’s supported and loved him.
Jack’s character is instantly identifiable as a man who just wants to make it big but just hasn’t found the right moment to shine. It’s a character trope as old as time. So when an opportunity falls into his lap to become famous, he takes it by plagiarizing The Beatles. This act could make many characters unlikable but Jack has the right amount of charm to keep the audience on his side. In fact, he himself struggles with immense guilt over the fact that his fame is based on deception.
Patel’s singing is pitch perfect with his voice breathing new life into classic songs such as “Yesterday,” “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and “Something.” When he starts singing and recording all of these songs, Patel conveys a sense of reverence for The Beatles.
Lily James also steals quite a bit of the spotlight. James’ character, Ellie, has been in love with Jack for quite some time and their relationship is a key plotline of the film. Her dedication to her friend is charming and James’ likeable personality shines through as it has with her many past roles.
Supporting cast members include pop star Ed Sheeran and Jack’s agent Debra Hammer, played by Kate McKinnon, who is the latest music executive in a film that is completely evil. Both Sheeran and McKinnon deliver good comedy when the film needs it. However, McKinnon’s character is mostly forgettable due to her lack of a personality. Every time she appears on screen, the viewer will likely be afraid of her deadly facial expressions.
The biggest problem the film has is its pacing. The plot occasionally drags, especially during the second act and the film, at times, is not sure if it wants to be a quirky romance or a fictitious musical biopic. The story also has some weird moments that really don’t affect the plot but are left in the film anyway instead of on the cutting room floor. Thankfully, these moments are rare and the lighthearted tone keeps the viewer invested in the story.
If for no other reason, see this film for a scene that occurs in the third act of the film. It involves Jack just going to a cottage and having a conversation with the resident but the scene itself is masterful and will make many a music fan shed tears.
“Yesterday” is a love letter to the legacy of The Beatles wearing a romantic comedy woven suit. It makes little sense at times, but its characters are worth caring about. One thing is for certain about “Yesterday.” The film may go in and out of style, but it’s guaranteed to raise a smile.