The virtuosic Danny Boyle (“Trainspotting”) hits a fanciful key with “Yesterday,” a sci-fir/rom-com with Beatles music. The film has a slight “Twilight Zone” feeling. While it is somewhat conventional in its rhythm, it is engaging, fizzy and cheerful. Better still it contains the director’s quirky, off-kilter perspective.
Jack (Himesh Patel) is a musician in his late 20s, still hoping for his big break and playing in pubs. His best childhood friend Ellie (Lily James) is invariably by his side, attending every gig.
After a music festival where he is almost invisible, he vows to give up music.
Though Ellie is chagrined, she supports him.
Then Jack gets into a bike accident when inexplicably, there is a global power outage. He is thrown to the pavement missing his front teeth and taken to the hospital. After a short time, during his “Welcome Home” party, Jack is given a beautiful guitar. Feeling in a pensive mood, he strums “Yesterday” complete with lyrics. His friends are awestruck. They have never heard anything so plainly poignant and heartfelt. Jack says in a smile, of course you know Paul McCartney.
But they haven’t.
Feeling he is being mocked for his enthusiasm, Jack leaves Ellie, insulted.
He races home finding to his horror, no mention of the Fab Four on the net or included in his vinyl record collection.
Even though Jack is stupefied, he resolves to just carry on and record The Beatles (from memory) for others to enjoy.
It is a buoyant experience to watch Jack strum away, looking upwards in an attempt to recall his beloved songs. There is innocence here too, a naivete and a joy.
Jack is passive and because of his go-with-the-flow attitude, fame comes his way.
Lily James is comforting once again as the vivacious girlfriend who wants more. Patel is also authentic as the well-meaning and self-deprecating guitar player, bewitched while trying to do the right thing.
A standout is the always offbeat Robert Carlyle who plays a modest John Lennon, (sans Beatle fame) at age 78, who paints by the seaside in a nondescript hut. The effect is handled delicately enough to be meaningful as well as affectionate.
Kate McKinnon plays a greedy music manager who only wants money to the point of being just shy of homicidal. One wishes for a less cartoonish role to balance the fine sweetness of Carlyle.
Though the eerie potential of social commentary is dispensed with in favor of romantic entertainment, “Yesterday” points to the power of McCartney / Lennon lyrics as our universal compass that points to joyful singing. There is much to enjoy here, we are swept along in the colorful frescoes of “Strawberry Fields.” Yet given the sepulchral haunt of “Eleanor Rigby,” one wishes for more of a Rod Serling treatment, rather than the feel-good carbonated swirl.
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