Share, , , Google Plus, Reddit, Pinterest, StumbleUpon


Posted in:

Five Cent Cine At Home: Yesterday

Not such an easy game to play

The premise of “Yesterday,” a feel-good movie from that master of melodrama, Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire” 2008), is that only one person in the world remembers The Beatles and their songs. Boyle hauls out the Hollywood meme that one person has knowledge that others don’t, and we know that kind of knowledge is power (and fun). The classic of the genre is “Back to the Future” (1985), in which Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) goes back in time to meet his future parents and introduce 1955 teenagers to “Johnny B. Goode” and Chuck Berry’s “duck walk.” And there’s “Groundhog Day” (1993), with Phil (Bill Murray) using accumulated knowledge to court and win Rita (Andie MacDowell), who otherwise wouldn’t give him the time of day.

The film benefits in part from what doesn’t happen.

“Yesterday” won’t achieve the famed status of these two films, but it’s clever and charming and, through most of its run time, carefully assembled. It’s light stuff and it works. Unlike most of the knowledge-is-power films, it doesn’t rely on time travel. Instead, a 12-minute world-wide blackout somehow erases (almost) all memory and evidence of Coca-Cola, cigarettes, Harry Potter, and, central to the story, The Beatles. Our protagonist, the barely talented singer-songwriter Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) retains partial memories of the Fab Four and their songs, and parlays that knowledge into super-stardom.

The film benefits in part from what doesn’t happen. Jack doesn’t become an immediate success; parents and neighbors don’t take him seriously, and early gigs find him struggling to be heard and appreciated, though he’s singing The Beatles’ songbook. Unlike the narrative arc in most “success” films, Jack doesn’t become a narcissistic jerk—even while his high-powered agent (Kate McKinnon) promises that she’s going to “corrupt” him, and even when he’s taken under the wing of pop star Ed Sheeran (played by the real Ed Sheeran, currently the biggest selling musician in the world). And because Jack’s knowledge of the lyrics of The Beatles is incomplete, he must actually struggle and work to recover words and phrasing from the fragments he recalls.

What makes the film especially poignant, and different from its famous predecessors, is that Jack’s knowledge—and his use of it to further his career—is understood to be illegitimate. Jack feels undeserving and guilty: the imposter syndrome. He’s fearful of being found out and condemned (and we’re afraid for him) and, as it turns out, there are others who have avoided the memory loss occasioned by the blackout, who also remember The Beatles, and who understand what Jack is up to. Will they out him?

What makes the film especially poignant, and different from its famous predecessors, is that Jack’s knowledge—and his use of it to further his career—is understood to be illegitimate.

These tensions, an understated but compelling performance by Patel, along with the sheer joy of hearing (and watching) the music being re-created and presented to adoring audiences, are the strengths of “Yesterday.” Yet it’s not a film without flaws. The music, played by a B-list musician, doesn’t rise to the level of other recent music-nostalgia films (“Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Rocketman”). Jack’s sidekick Rocky (Joel Fry), while necessary to the narrative, is neither a developed nor interesting character. “Saturday Night Live” alum McKinnon is brilliantly funny in her first scene as the agent Debra, but morphs into a caricature. Jack’s first agent and later love interest Ellie Appleton (Lily James), is the perfect girl next door, but she remains little more than a pretty face, there to stand by her man and provide a woman to make the inevitable couple.

Perhaps the least satisfying aspect of the film is its resolution of Jack’s situation. Of course he gets the girl, but as a musician he is condemned to a life of entertaining youth groups (and the like) with Beatles’ songs, a role that lacks creativity, originality and status and fails to tap into the desire and ambition that Jack once demonstrated as a struggling songwriter and performer. The worst didn’t happen to Jack — and the world is better off for what he did —but maybe the second worst did: a man without a career of his own.

Date: 2019

Director: Danny Boyle

Starring: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Ed Sheeran (as himself), Kate McKinnon

Yesterday ★★★ (out of 4 stars)

Original 2 Film Critics review ran 8.24.19

Runtime: 116 minutes

Awards: Nominated for and won one regional and foreign awards.​

Availability: Streaming HBO and DirectTV; rental DirectTV and AMC On Demand; Purchase Amazon, Redbox and elsewhere. See JustWatch here.

Also see reviews on…

Minding the Gap

The Painted Bird


Toy Story 4

The Truth

I, Tonya


The Shape of Water


Da 5 Bloods




If Beale Street Could Talk


I Am Not Your Negro

The Painter and The Thief

Bad Times at the El Royale

Bad Education

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Manchester by the Sea

Until The Birds Return


Two Popes

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

The Lighthouse

Eighth Grade

The Traitor (Il Traditore)

Free Solo

Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Sorry to Bother You


Hidden Figures

Ford v Ferrari

Captain Fantastic

First Cow


Ordinary Love

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Uncut Gems

Les Misérables

The Last Black Man in San Francisco



Little Women

Marriage Story

Queen & Slim

The Irishman


Cold Brook

Jojo Rabbit

Pain & Glory ( Dolor y Gloria)



Downton Abbey

Ad Astra

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

The Goldfinch

Good Boys

Written by 2 Film Critics

2 Film Critics

William Graebner is Emeritus Professor of History, State University of New York, Fredonia, where he taught courses on film and American culture. He is the author or co-author of 11 books and more than 50 scholarly articles, including essays on “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” “McCabe and Mrs. Miller,” “The Poseidon Adventure,” and zombie films as they relate to the Holocaust. Dianne Bennett, the first woman to head a large U.S. law firm, is a retired U.S. tax lawyer.

Dianne and Bill were early and passionate attendees at the Toronto Film Festival, and today enjoy the film scenes of Los Angeles, Rome, London, and Buffalo, New York. They began reviewing films for the Rome-based website “TheAmerican/inItalia” in 2016, have maintained a blog on Rome for a decade, and published two alternative guidebooks to the Eternal City. They still can’t resist going to the movies, not to mention the ensuing discussions, sometimes heated, over a bottle of Arneis at the nearest wine bar.

​And that's just the beginning of our reviewing process. For one or two hours we discuss the film, as one of us takes notes. The notetaker transcribes the notes and prints two copies. Dianne or Bill (usually depending on who had the most compelling understanding of the film, or who was most taken with it) writes the first draft of the review--supposedly taking into account the views of the other--which is followed by 3, 4, or even 7 more drafts. At some point, sometimes days later, when we're both comfortable with the result (or accepting of it, anyway), it's done.

View All Articles by 2 Film Critics
Hide Comments
Show Comments