• 17 Aug - 23 Aug, 2019
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Reviews

Yesterday, a wide-eyed musical fairy tale written by Richard Curtis and directed by Danny Boyle is a movie that wants to celebrate the magic of the Beatles. Yet there isn’t a scene in it that gives you that same kind of high. Granted, we aren’t watching the Beatles! We’re seeing a kind of pop-culture what-if? joke, all revolving around the modest figure of Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), an appealing if painfully earnest 27-year-old Indian-British singer-songwriter who can barely get a dozen people to show up for his gig at a music festival.

One night, a cosmic freak accident takes place – a blackout all over the world. It lasts for 12 seconds, but during that time Jack gets hit by a bus, which conks him right out. He wakes up with a gap where two of his front teeth should be, but that’s far from the biggest change in his life. When he’s handed a new guitar as a recovery gift, Jack christens the instrument by serenading a handful of friends with his rendition of the Beatles’ Yesterday, and the friends can scarcely believe what a beautiful song it is. That’s because they’ve never heard it before.

The blackout, you see, replaced the world as we know it with one in which the Beatles never existed. That puts Jack in the position of being the only person on Earth who knows the group’s songs. He figures this out by Googling “the Beatles” (all that comes up is beetles) and then the title of “Sgt. Pepper” (all that comes up is red peppers). Is it any wonder that as he starts to go out and perform the music of the Beatles, everyone who hears the songs falls in love with them?

Yesterday milks most of this for light comedy. After Jack sings “Yesterday,” one of his friend’s comments that it’s a “nice” song, and Jack, incensed at the understatement, declares, “It’s one of the greatest songs ever written!” But considering that everyone there thinks he wrote it, it just sounds like his ego has gone off the charts, and one friend tries to put Jack in his place (and the song, too) by saying, “It’s not Coldplay.”

In “Yesterday,” a world without the Beatles doesn’t look any different, so there’s little potency to the film’s fantasy of the Beatles coming back. At heart, the movie is a fantasy of rebooting the Beatles – of imagining that if their music came at us now, for the first time, it would be, in a word, yuge.