Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) has just accepted that his dreams of becoming a famous singer/songwriter will only ever be supported by his childhood friend Ellie Appleton (Lily James) when a mysterious 12 second global blackout changes everything. Jack's in the path of a bus when the lights go out and when he awakens in a hospital room he begins to notice that no one seems to have ever heard of the Beatles. Jack's heard singing one of their tunes in a pub, is given free studio recording time and skyrockets to fame singing songs like "Yesterday."
Laura's Review: C+
Your enjoyment of this one is going to depend on just how much ludicrousness and laziness you can put up with in Richard "Love Actually" Curtis's screenplay, one which removes all traces of the Beatles unless it becomes inconvenient to his plot, one which celebrates the meeting of its romcom pairing over 'Wonderwall' only to wipe out Oasis, one which throws together characters from Moscow and Liverpool with no explanation whatsoever as to how they would have met and one which apparently knows nothing about the music industry or basic human sense. It is difficult to figure why director Danny Boyle went forward without any attempt to fix at least some of the screenplay's more egregious faults, but his exuberant direction and bold style combined with the positively charming pairing of Lily James and newcomer Patel plus loads of Beatles music go a long way towards papering over "Yesterday's" problems. Ellie thrills Jack to bits when she tells him she's procured him a slot at the Latitude Festival, but the turnout in his tent is pitiful and Jack is ready to face reality. We never do get an explanation for the blackout that wipes out the output of the Beatles, the Coca Cola company, Oasis and J.K. Rowling, but Ellie's post-accident teasing of Jack for the loss of his beard and two front teeth tells us everything we need to know about how she feels about him, a romantic possibility Jack has never considered. When they get together with friends Nick (Harry Michell) and Carol (Sophia Di Martino), joke gifts ensue, but Ellie's bought him a new guitar. Jack sings 'Yesterday' and they're all gobsmacked, even if Carol declares it 'no Coldplay.' Jack thinks they're pulling his leg when none claim to have heard of either the song or the Beatles. Then he starts searching Google and only gets insects and Pope John Paul II in return and the 'B' section of his album collection has been mysteriously depleted. Jack begins writing song titles on Post-it notes and scrounging up lyrics from memory. At first 'his' new songs don't seem to gain him much traction (one of Curtis's best bits of writing involves the constant interruptions endured when Jack tries to unveil 'Let It Be' to his parents (Meera Syal and Sanjeev Bhaskar)), but Suffolk local Gavin (Alexander Arnold) is impressed enough to press a CD for free and when Jack appears on a local morning show, he gets a call, then a visit from Ed Sheeran asking him to fill in for his opener the following week in Moscow. Jack pulls out 'Back in the U.S.S.R.' for a cheering Russian audience then bests Sheeran in a friendly backstage on-the-spot songwriting competition with 'The Long and Winding Road.' Sheeran's manager Debra (Kate McKinnon) takes notice, disparaging his looks ('you're skinny, yet you're round') but offering to fly him to L.A. But all this building fame and fortune is putting an awful lot of distance between Jack and Ellie, who finally tells him how she feels at the drunken party celebrating his departure for the U.S. Patel, no relation to Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire" discovery Dev, is a big-eyed cutie-pie with a respectable voice and humble approach to his character. We can see him flinch at his own unintentional 'ego trips' defending Beatles' classics and it is his low key manner, not desire for riches, that allows Debra's control. Lily James is simply one of the big screen's most sparkling joys no matter what she plays and she's simply lovely here, even when Curtis has Ellie drawing some inexplicably harsh lines (the obligatory romcom obstacles). Sheeran's a natural playing himself and McKinnon is well cast as the unrepentantly truthful American music agent. Di Martino and Michell carry the running joke of being the only audience members calling for one of Jack's true originals ('The Summer Song'). But Joel Fry fails to endear as incompetent roadie Rocky and Arnold is jammed into a spoiler slot. Boyle uses graphic design, creating living photo montages with doors and windows or scrolling song titles down a highway dividing line. Listen for his inspired choice of accompanying Jack's accident with "A Day in the Life's" orchestral glissando. Beatles music is offered in every stripe of venue, from living rooms to small stages to recording studios big and small to a referential rooftop to the film's Wembly Arena climax, but not much has been done to make it fresh with the exception of the desperation and angry energy Patel gives to "Help!" (Nor, for that matter, is any effort made to analyze any difference in reception fifty years would make.) The film really stumbles badly in its climax, Jack doing something that would land him in court and announcing something that would land him in Bellevue, both actions breezily accepted by all but one. "Yesterday" is a frustrating experience, a crowd pleaser but only if you don't think about it. At all. Grade: