When I got home from my 7 o’clock screening, the power in my neighborhood went out. Under normal circumstances this would have been perfectly normal–the product of construction or some over-eager birds. But the screening was for “Yesterday,” a movie where the electricity goes out around the world, and when it returns, everyone except for a failed musician has forgotten about the Beatles. When my own power returned, I hadn’t forgotten about the Beatles or “Yesterday.” My problem was that Danny Boyle’s twee fantasy hadn’t given me anything to sing about.
This over-eager to please aberration from England has you rooting for it from the start–the very idea of a world without the Beatles is enough to spike your curiosity. But the movie is curiously lacking in the love department; as well as the coherence department and the entertainment department.
That said, there’s a lot to love about Jack Malik (Himesh Patel). He’s a singer/song writer with gallant aspirations and perfunctory machinations. He’s more English than tea and more flaky than scones. He’s also got a singing voice that’s dreamier than the English countrysides. But nobodies listening. Well, not exactly NOBODY. He sometimes gets standing ovations from those already standing at the bar. And on a good day you can find him playing for little kids.
Still, that doesn’t stop his agent/roadie/best friend from sticking by his side. Jack doesn’t know how to drive, so Ellie drives him from gig to gig. More than that, Ellie also drives the plot. She’s the most likeable thing here, and she’s played by Lily James with Haley Lu Richardson-like giddiness. She’s as bubbly as a jacuzzi turned all the way up, with a warm heart to fit the description. Woman this flawless can only be found in the movies, just as guys this dumb can only be seen on the big screen. How can Jack not fall for Lily James? Or anyone for that matter? It’s a question you will find yourself asking throughout this love story– one with lots of static and no electricity.
What’s undeniably electric, though, is the music. After the power goes out, and Dave gets hit by a bus, he decides to play “Yesterday.” Surprise surprise, no one’s heard it before. His friends look at him wide-eyed, the way a fan girl would stare at Paul McCartney. Moments like these will delight any Beatles fan. And for those who don’t like the Beatles… how don’t you like the Beatles?
On his way to the top he plays hits like “Help!” “Let it Be” and “Here Comes the Sun,” all of which mirror the state of his relationship with Ellie. It’s a clever if familiar notion in a clever but familiar blockbuster. A man from humble beginnings achieves stardom, only to realize that hanging out with Ed Sheeran (playing himself) and his schlocky producer (Kate McKinnon doing her “SNL” shtick) isn’t the same as being with those you love.
He also has to finally–and I mean finally– realize who it is he loves. The answer is obvious. Richard Curtis’ by-the-numbers script isn’t illusive and Boyle’s sporadic action doesn’t make way for any mystery. Also in question is the filmmaker’s imagination. Shouldn’t a world without the Beatles look different? Wouldn’t music forever be changed? And then there’s the music itself! Nobodies asking for a jukebox musical, but shouldn’t a movie about the Beatles play the songs for longer than five seconds? This plays like an advertisement for the greatest band ever–one that needed no advertisement– by scrolling through their catalog, sampling the hits in the old Itunes-like fashion. It’s just the sort of carelessness many will mistake for “feel good” entertainment.
Not that any of that will matter at the box office. Many will tear up throughout the lazy plot and corny romantic subplot. And that’s perfectly fine. But for most of us, it’s our expectations that will be gently weeping.