Yesterday mostly wastes an interesting premise telling a largely enjoyable little love story. Sure, it is just as much Boomer nostalgia bait as Bohemian Rhapsody or Rocketman, but Yesterday tries something slightly interesting. Yesterday plays with an alternate reality concept and a little with the nature of fame. It ends up being just slightly more on the side of a success than a failure.
The high concept premise is that after a worldwide blackout, everyone except struggling musician Jack Malick forgets about the Beatles. Armed with his memory of Beatles songs, he begins to sell their work as his own. There are a lot of fertile story telling ground to go from here, about separating the art from the artist, about the specific circumstances around the Beatles success, about the effect art can have on the world. Yesterday is not interested in any of that. Any other blackout difference are only there for jokes.
Instead, Yesterday focuses on the stillborn romance between Himesh Patel as Jack and Lily James’s Ellie. She has operated as his manager and roadie for him for years, but once he starts to be a success with the Beatles music, their paths diverge and he has to choose between being a rock star and her. He keeps choosing stardom, until the end. There is a lot to criticize about this development, but I found that the love story largely works. It is clear from the beginning that both of the characters love each other, but both are afraid to jeopardize the friendship they have for the romance they might have. It is not a new story. But I find that it works in the context of movie, if only because Lily James is adorable.
A lot of the movie’s humor lands, especially Kate McKinnon as Jack’s new manager/Svengali. She doesn’t have any illusions about being there for anything other than the money, outright telling Jack that she doesn’t care about him, he is a product to her. Also, his incredibly incompetent and drugged out roadie Rocky is a lot of fun as he bumbles though just about everything.
The way the movie deals with the music is also fraught. It just takes that someone showing up with about two thirds of the Beatles’ hits would immediately translate into musical stardom as assumed. It does not acknowledge the passage of time between when The Beatles were popular and now. People would love the music in this alternate reality because they love it now.
There are also some just plain strange turns. Like a late movie encounter with a couple of other people who remember The Beatles and a visit with a man who gives some insight.
I am being somewhat harsh on what is, for the most part, an enjoyable little trifle. Yesterday is an excuse to watch a little romance while hearing a lot of Beatles covers. It succeeds on those very limited terms. Any other implications or insights are completely beyond the scope of the movie, making it feel more disappointing that it is.