One of the most highly anticipated films of the summer that didn’t include CGI, a third-world country gross national income for a budget or a mega star in a leading role made its debut this past week. Yesterday has been talked about by some as a potential sleeping giant to be one of the best films of the year. It’s been billed as an adorable comedy with a fun love story and unique plot. We came for the love story, but we left with confusion.
Unfortunately, I had to include several major spoilers further down in this review – just a warning. With that said, here we go.
Richard Curtis, a co-writer of the film, is a king of “rom-coms,” having written previous cult classics such as Love, Actually and Four Weddings and a Funeral. To some, they are memorable movies that take you back to where you were in your life the first time you saw them. While to others, they are corny, unrealistic, over-the-top snooze-fests. Yesterday falls somewhere in the middle, which in a weird way, turns out to be one of its flaws. It lacks a true identity.
For those who still are unaware, Yesterday is a film about a struggling musician named Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), who realizes the world has not heard of the Beatles after getting hit by a bus during a random 12-second long worldwide power outage. His manager, a cute girl-next-door school teacher by trade named Ellie (Lily James) does all she can to convince him to continue performing, but realizes she can only take him so far due to the logistical limitations of her own profession.
Obviously, upon realizing the entire world has never heard of the legendary band, Malik takes full advantage of the situation and pretends to have written all of their songs and becomes the biggest singer/songwriter in the world. Malik’s lie catches up to him though, and tears him up internally – as does the fact that his friendship with Ellie has dissipated and is all but lost because of his stardom.
First, let’s get to the positives of Yesterday. Himesh Patel in his big-screen debut did a great job as the leading man. An unknown to most Americans, Patel is sure to gain some new fans here from his role in this film. He was believable and genuine in his role playing Malik, a charismatic character who draws you in with his organic vulnerabilities.
Richard Curtis did a nice job of writing the Jack Malik character to be a vessel for the audience going through the events of the story. He perfectly represents the mass audience – hard-working and fun but flawed and stressed from the tug-of-war that is real life.
Unfortunately, that’s really the most praise I can give Yesterday. It’s a movie that is cute at times, but is more like a puzzle with several key pieces missing from its box. It’s really hard to put everything together.
Here’s a heads-up, there are several huge spoilers ahead, so if you didn’t see the movie yet, now is your chance to skip the bottom.
For some, these spoilers will serve as a public service to stay away from spending money to see the movie. As most of you are well-aware, I rarely, if ever, will recommend that. These spoilers for Yesterday are unique because, although they may tell you how the movie plays out, it still doesn’t really take anything away from the viewing experience. You still can interpret things as you see them, since some things I am about to point out are subjective. Most of the spoilers actually are more like questions and grievances I have to all the plot holes throughout the movie.
I’ll just start rambling on now. First off, how in the world could there be a 12-second worldwide power outage and nobody brings it up throughout the movie? I’m pretty sure that would be a historic event internationally with a lot more questions than answers. This movie gives neither.
Here’s another issue I had – if the world has somehow never heard of the Beatles, which is confirmed by Jack’s Google searches, then how has he heard of them? Is it somehow connected to the power outage? If so, Jack lived through the outage too, so wouldn’t he too be affected?
Throughout the movie we find out along with Jack that other favorites of his, like Coca-Cola, Harry Potter, cigarettes, and the band Oasis also don’t exist. I assume these are all things he specifically loves, but that isn’t made exactly clear.
Later on in the film, we find out there are two other people who figured out Malik’s ploy and instead of outing him to the public, they praise him when they meet him for keeping the Beatles music alive. How did those two come to realize there were others out there who remembered the band and find each other? Why them? Does that mean there are others out there too that Jack never heard from? If there are, isn’t it likely that eventually several of them would snitch?
Here’s some more – Ellie, Jack’s friend/manager/love interest is kind of a wolf in sheep’s clothing to me. She supports him and loves him when he is nothing, but once he becomes successful, she doesn’t want to be in his life. As a manager, isn’t that the idea to make your client the most successful artist they can be and watch them reach stardom? Why would she support him and push him through the tough times and then flake out once he actually makes it?
Then, from the love angle, she gives him a guilt trip for becoming successful and leaving her behind (more her choice than his) and literally gives him an unfair ultimatum to leave fame behind and be with her living lives as boring British school teachers together (the movie makes it sound like its a bleak profession and a low-budget consolation prize) or follow his dream and lose her forever. What kind of person does that? And what’s so wrong with being a school teacher?!
On top of that, at the end of the film, after he obviously follows his heart, he goes back to teaching at school with Ellie. That would be cool, except for the fact that during your teaching hiatus you became the biggest music star in the world. There’s no way he would be able to go back to that without being followed by media, fans, etc. Imagine if Britney Spears left it all behind to become a gym teacher in Louisiana. Crazy, right?
Finally, here’s my biggest issue. I can hear people now saying “the movie represents a dream he had while in a coma after the accident.” Someone may even theorize that Jack died in the accident and the outage represented his own lights going out, so to speak. That’s all fine, and maybe even true, but that’s all a huge assumption that the movie never gives you much evidence to back up such logic. Unlike other films that have taken that road or one close to it in the past, nothing in Yesterday’s beginning, middle or end gives concrete proof that that is the path the movie has taken. In fact, Jack does have dreams play out throughout the film, so are we getting to Inception-type levels here of dreams within dreams? I doubt it. Regardless, we don’t know if it was a comatose dream, a posthumous one, or reality – and that is the biggest flaw in this movie. Because of that specific question, I have no idea what the movie truly was about or was supposed to represent.
Alright, the grievances have been aired and spoilers revealed. Let’s get to the conclusion.
Like Curtis’ other works, Yesterday is just an “OK” movie that does keep your attention as long as you are fine with throwing reality out the window, which becomes an issue for people like me when you’re watching a movie about real people in the real world. If you are going to see the movie thinking you are going to see a comedy, think again. This is another vintage scrambled “rom-com” script from Curtis with sporadic, dry humor that provoke a few chuckles at best.
Yesterday, all the plot holes seemed so far away. Now it seems as though they’re here to stay (sorry, I had to do it).
MATTER RATING: 5.5/10
OSCAR SCALE: 7/10 (Best Original Song from a Motion Picture)
BY: CHRIS GUEST