At the piano in his parents’ parlor, 27-year old, wanna-be song-writer/musician Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) plays and sings Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday.” “It’s a very nice song,” says Jack’s girlfriend Ellie Appleton (Lily James). To which Jack responds, “It’s only one of the best songs ever written!” That’s the setup for this “what-if” musical fantasy, in which Jack is the only person in the world who remembers the Beatles. Everyone else, in a 12-second, planet-wide blackout, has erased John, Paul, George and Ringo from their memory.
Will Jack take credit for Beatle songs only he remembers? Do Ellie and Jack get together? Can you suspend disbelief and accept “Yesterday’s” bizarre setup? I couldn’t.
Himesh Patel, in his first film, is struggling musician Jack Malik, whose only fan is his girlfriend/manager Ellie, played by Lily James — who, alas, has little to do in her underwritten part. Ellie’s been a fan since grade school, when Jack performed in a talent show. They love each other, but can’t find the right words. “A one-night stand,” she says, “is not for me.” His parents, father Jed (Sanjeev Bhaskar) and mother Sheila (Meera Syal), try to be helpful and encouraging, but just don’t get it. “Carry on, Jack-o!” says his dad. Singer/songwriter Ed Sheeran plays himself, discovering and promoting Jack’s (Beatles’) repertoire. Sheeran has a funny moment in a recording studio, when he advises Jack to change the song’s old-fashioned title to “Hey, Dude.”
Others in the cast include Kate McKinnon as no-nonsense Debra Hammer, big-time, LA music-industry agent who promises to make Jack a world-wide sensation. “You write songs,” she says. “We release them, make tons of money and keep most of it.” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” is a bad title, says Debra. “Too many words.” Joel Fry plays Jack’s best friend, Rocky. Camille Chen and Maryana Spivak are Wendy and Alexa. James Corden plays himself.
“’Yesterday’ wants to be a feel-good movie,” says critic Sheila O’Malley. That’s what I wanted, too, but central character Jack Malik is — there’s no getting around it — a fraud. So, even though he seems a nice guy, it’s hard to cheer him on. Directed by Danny Boyle and written by Richard Curtis (from an idea by Jack Barth), “Yesterday” is a tribute to the Beatles. That part of it works. Himesh Patel does well with the songs — even though his character can’t remember the words to “Eleanor Rigby.” The rom-com plot, on the other hand, is less successful. I didn’t care much whether Jack and Ellie got together.
Rated PG-13 for suggestive content and language, “Yesterday” runs 112 minutes.
“Yesterday’s” X-file plot
Doesn’t help this flick a lot;
See it for its songs, I’d say,
‘Cause “I believe in yesterday.”