For the benefit of those who don’t know, Yesterday is one of the many numerous chart-topping hits by a band in the 60s named The Beatles. For the rest of us, it’s a gold-standard tune from one of the best-selling bands of all time - untouchable in their musical success. So it would be unimaginable (sorry had to do it) to think what would the world be like, if The Beatles never existed.
Yesterday the film, in true cheeky Boyle-style, explores an alternate universe where after a freak phenomena, The Beatles never came to be. It would seem that the world has never heard the music of the group… everyone, except for lucky Jack Malik (Himesh Patel).
You see, the Price Star Warehouse outlet employee is also a struggling musician. And by struggling, we mean he plays only at kid’s parties and pubs that need a programme filler. So after he gets into an accident with a bus at the exact moment of the time-warp blackout, he finds himself the only person in the world to remember the existence of the quartet.
Upon discovering the fact, he realises the potential goldmine (and maybe a few platinum albums) he has struck, and frantically tries to pen down all the songs off of his memory. And of course, given that the group has written over 100 songs with rather specific lyrics, he struggles a little with some of them.
Meanwhile, his manager Ellie Appleton (Lily James), who secretly nurses a crush on our lead, does her faithful cheerleading and steers him on course again. A small performance leads to a recording, the recording leads to CDs being distributed at work, which leads to a small appearance at a TV interview, which leads to Ed Sheeran appearing at his house. Yes, you heard right - Ed Sheeran.
Yesterday tracks the success of Jack, while having fun with plenty of wacky what-ifs along the way. Ed Sheeran’s role as a musical mentor is a dig at his own success, and he happily hams up his character in the film as an opinionated celebrity. His appearance anchors the surreal fantasy happening into our current world, which is a welcome addition to the script.
And while other guests appearances such as TV host James Corden and musician-producer Michael Kiwanuka also add to the reality of the show, it is the performances from Kate McKinnon that I find the most entertaining.
As Ed’s manager, she spots herself a new cash cow in Jack (and who wouldn’t be if they wrote hits within minutes?) and the moral abyss that she is, says things which kicks the movie into high gear. After first introducing herself, she says to Jack, “Is this the best you can look?”
And it keeps on coming.
“You are skinny... yet somehow round,” she cruelly describes at a styling. And when hearing one of Jack’s actual original songs, she squeezed out, “I struggle to find the words... I hated it, but I wasn’t interested in it enough to listen to it again to find out why.” It’s strike after strike and pure comedy gold that only McKinnon can do with such flawlessness.
But cutting comedy aside, people who love The Beatles will be thrilled by the running soundtrack. Every note and refrain hints at the musical legacy of the band, and as they unfold in various segments, the trip down memory lane is truly priceless. There’s even a sequence of Jack going to actual spots to recollect and investigate into songs like Strawberry Fields Forever and Eleanor Rigby.
Besides that, there’s also an emotional surprise at the tail end of the film, when Jack receives instruction to visit an address. The role is uncredited and the appearance will shock, but once Jack sees what the fuss was all about, it will also bring on a surge of emotions for all fans. It’s a simple sequence really, and can seem a little gimmicky, but as the conversation unfolds, it pulls all of the movie’s message into focus and delivers an impactful meeting.
There are some things which are never explained, such as why Coca Cola and cigarettes never existed, along with the group. And while Oasis’s disappearance can be attributed to their huge influence coming from the foursome, other oddities - like the global freak incident, and why there may have been one or two that remember the group as well - are never investigated. But in a sense, this lends yet again another touch of realism that Boyle is known for injecting into his projects.
With trademark Brit humour and dry witticisms, a nostalgic revisit both visually and aurally, Yesterday is pure entertainment for the heart and soul. Imagine that.