The idea of this movie Yesterday is that there was never a popular music band called The Beatles, and none of the music they made exists, and a young English man Jack Malik (Himesh Patel, very funny and engaging, who up until now has been an actor getting recurring-character work on English television shows such as the eternal Eastenders), trying to make it as a singer/songwriter, appears to be the only person on the planet who knows there was a The Beatles, and he realizes he could make it big “writing” and performing The Beatles’ catalog, and so the movie is a fun argument about pop music, and who influenced what, and also an enjoyable fantasy about having a low-key super power, the ability to become a famous rock star.
The target demographic of this film’s audience has gotta be people like me, who know about The Beatles and know how huge they were, and who were very sad when John Lennon got murdered. I mean the title of the movie is a Beatles song and it falls into a resonant and well-established groove in my brain, and I’m more of a Rolling Stones fan.
The overall power of this movie, with this pre-loaded audience demographic is to remind people of how great The Beatles were, and to reinforce and reward that feeling in some sort of crazy awakening of a long-buried pile of dopamine, to comfort and congratulate them for liking The Beatles. I don’t think that’s a terrible or cynical thing, it’s just a movie idea that is made out of a reassuring form of Fan Service. Culture Service? It’s not bad, it’s a nice movie. Beyond this movie giving The Beatles catalog a bump, the one sort of Big Music Business cynical and calculated thing might be if the song “Yesterday” gets an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song, but it doesn’t look like that could happen.
The secondary market of the movie seems to be, maybe, people who enjoy the popular musical artist Ed Sheeran, who I mostly know about from how he was on Game of Thrones, and totally being a ruinous shark-jumping moment in that program. Remember when Game of Thrones was so huge? Maybe somebody will make a movie about how Game of Thrones never existed and then somebody writes all the books and finishes them and makes the stories better. Anyway, Ed Sheeran is in this movie as the very famous and popular Ed Sheeran, and he manages to convince us, but seriously, dude, yeah, you are an AS THEMSELVES-level actor, I mean, phony-baloney TV talk-show host James Corden is in this flick as James Corden, and he kicks your butt in acting, not that it’s a contest, and I guess you’re in this movie and a producer and stuff because you love The Beatles’ music, and you are showing us you have a sense of humor about yourself, but the acting, c’mon.
This is a Danny Boyle picture. He made Slumdog Millionaire, a movie I have never seen, but I think I should, plus he did that movie about the rock climber who cut off his own arm, which I will never fucking see. This version of a Danny Boyle joint is a very English-folks movie, which is great. Personally, I am always delighted by hearing regular English-speakers speak the language they invented.
Kate McKinnon from Saturday Night Live performs solidly as a typically evil Music Company person, and she is good comic relief with a hint of menace, but sometimes I think maybe she should think about Jim Carey and cleanse herself of her comedic mannerisms before it’s too late. Maybe Scientology has a program.
There’s lots of the million-selling-hits music of The Beatles, and the whole thing is very agreeable and entertaining as you watch this songwriter trying to remember words to Beatles songs so he can assemble an album and become a rock god. I would love to see the notes from the movie company on reactions from people who don’t know anything about the Beatles.
The thing that holds this entire enterprise together beyond its mission as high-concept Culture-Fan Service is that this is very nice and sweet Romantic Comedy, with Jack and his dutiful music-manager Ellie (Lily James, who is a smart and funny cutie-pie and not at all annoyingly the cutie-pie she was in Baby Driver), and sometimes a movie is just nice and sweet and a bit of fun, and that’s this movie, it is simply a very nice movie, nice, nice, nice. That’s good! You don’t have to be familiar with The Beatles to enjoy this film about somebody taking credit for someone else’s work. For rock & roll fans and Beatles-conditioned viewers, there are a couple of little bumps, some funny, and one of the bumps is really big, and somebody could SPOILER it for you easily, so be careful out there if you want to get the full experience.