When I go into a movie these days, it is with a notebook so that I can write down various observations along the way. Most of the time they are things that do not make sense to me that I want to put into my reviews, but usually do not make it into them. If I put in every criticism I have of a film, my entries would be unreadable. The other thing I record are various moments that I found memorable in a good way, and those things usually do find their way into what I write about a film. All of this is a long way of saying that when I like a movie, I tend not to jot down a ton in my journal, preferring to just sit back and enjoy. I scrawled very little about Yesterday.
If you have not seen a preview for Yesterday (and why not, since it is conveniently provided for you above), it is the story of a struggling musician named Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) who, due to a freak worldwide and personal accident, is (nearly) the only person who remembers the Beatles. This was pretty evident from the trailer, and it basically unfolds the way you might expect, but I will say spoiler alerts from here on out in case you do not want to know anymore than what is in the clip shared in this review.
What I did not expect from Yesterday was how brilliantly funny, and yet serious it was from start to finish. That is usually difficult proposition to pull off, but this one does it perfectly. John Lennon once said that “The more real you get, the more unreal the world gets.” For Yesterday, the idea of somebody like Jack Malik becoming a pop icon is so absurd as to be funny, and it is a joke that the movie trades on throughout most of it. But the more famous he becomes, the crazier everything around him gets.
However, Yesterday is not the classic tale of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll, and when you reflect that back on the music of the Beatles, neither were they. There are bigger questions at play here, and one of them asks what if the Beatles were famous today? The Beatles became famous because their songs are timeless. Thus Jack Malik becomes merely the vessel by which he conveys these messages of love that were the hallmark of the Beatles, and why their songs are so identifiable even today.
If you are somewhat familiar with the Beatles, you know how reluctant of celebrities they were. When they were at the height of their fame in 1970, they quit. In Yesterday, the dangers of fame are summed up by Debra Hammer (Kate McKinnon) who, in her quest to record the erstwhile Jack Malik, perfectly describes the career of a mega-pop star as drinking from a “poisoned chalice.” For Malik, the choice between the person he clearly loves in Ellie Appleton (Lily James) and getting the music of the Beatles out there becomes the tension of the film. Anyone might look at a life of notoriety as a dream, and there is a great deal of dreams versus reality in this film. But like Lennon’s prophetic words, Malik sees that the world, and more precisely the record label, does not really care about him or his music, a situation compounded by his growing feelings for Appleton.
Jesus said that there is no greater love than to lay one’s life down for one’s friend. That is an idea that gets played out in films so much as to almost become cliché, which is a shame because there is so much truth in that philosophy. Usually, in a cinematic sense, this involves a dramatic action sequence where somebody literally gives up their life for another. Very noble and all that. In Yesterday, Jack Malik’s fame is what keeps him and Ellie Appleton apart. But, ultimately, there is nothing real about his music. It is not even his. Thus he lays down his popularity out of love of his Ellie. That might seem strange to our modern sensibilities where we only care how many likes we get on social media, but then again, many did not understand why the Beatles quit either.
Yesterday is funny, sweet, heart warming, and the best movie I have seen this year, and in quite a long time for that matter. It gets my highest recommendation and I will be seeing it a second time. I am not sure why it got an “R” rating, but that is Hollywood for you, I guess. Either way, if you have a spare few hours, take the time to see it.