Danny Boyle’s “Yesterday” is the second film this summer season to feature a classic rock soundtrack, and it hits theaters one month after “Rocketman,” and a month before “Blinded by the Light.” As someone who’s considered the Beatles her favorite band since high school, it’s been really hard for me to buy into Hollywood using their music as a gimmick. Suffice to say, I went into “Yesterday” with low expectations.
Part of the reason for my distaste of Beatles-themed films is that alternate universes in fiction are almost always as flawed as time travel logic. Still, I loved the Cirque du Soleil stage show LOVE when it debuted in 2006, but didn’t enjoy Julie Taymor’s film musical “Across the Universe” (2007) at all. And with “Yesterday,” I actually left the movie after being pleasantly surprised, for the most part.
Jack (Himesh Patel) is a struggling local musician in modern-day England who is about to give up his dreams of being a singer-songwriter. His best friend and manager Ellie (Lily James) thinks he should continue pursuing what he loves, and his parents just don’t get his interest in music. Jack experiences a biking accident one late night while riding horses at exactly the same time that the whole world loses power for about 10 seconds. When he awakens the next morning in a hospital, he discovers that he’s the only one who remembers who the Beatles are and what Coca-Cola and cigarettes are. Jack sees this as a huge advantage to finally breaking through as an artist.
“Yesterday” is a lot funnier than I was anticipating. Director Danny Boyle has a few uplifting features on his resume (i.e. “Millions” (2004) and “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008)), but I think a lot of it has to do with Richard Curtis being recruited for the script. Curtis, whom I’ve always considered the UK’s answer to John Hughes, has a hit reputation for penning beloved romcoms, like “Four Weddings and a Funeral” (1994), “Notting Hill” (1999), and “Love Actually” (2003). Given Curtis’ track record, it’s no surprise the love subplot with Patel and James is cute and given proper attention in the screenplay. And finally, Saturday Night Live alum Kate McKinnon isn’t completely wasted or pointless on film in her role as Jack’s manager and antagonist.
Still, as solid as it is in parts, the logic behind the idea of rewriting history is flimsy and relies on the audience’s instinct to suspend their belief, much like Curtis’ previous fantasy-themed romance “About Time” (2013) – a movie I liked a lot.
A collaboration between Boyle and Curtis feels like it should be stellar in theory, but the reality we are given is just fairly decent. All the same, “Yesterday” still works as a fun date night or hang-out flick with friends, and the covers of all the Beatles songs are pretty good, too.