Danny Boyle’s filmography ranges from Trainspotting to 127 Hours. His latest — Yesterday — is a culmination of possibilities and subsequent emotions. The story of Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) who has been a struggling musician until a strange blackout eliminates the existence of The Beatles and their legacy for everyone but him is riveting. The chance to discover iconic songs placed throughout the length of the film as Jack rises to fame, tangles and untangles his relationship with Ellie (Lily James) and when asked about the difference between Los Angeles and Liverpool, replies “Mo Salah” — is alive and well.
Yesterday walks into that sincere list of feel-good movies which may have a predictable third act — led by the now 20-year-old Notting Hill where we first witnessed a celebrity-non celebrity couple based in a small British town. A stark ten-minute sequence right after Jack discovers the truth of the post-blackout world and just before his rise to stardom features him playing famous Beatles singles across cafes, bars and birthday parties to paltry and ignorant crowds.
The people — drunk bachelors and kids running behind each other — no one recognises the art that the real world runs by. You could almost feel for the absent band — a possible tragedy had non-music amenities not gone right for them. Yesterday re-invents our notion to fall in love with Let It Be, feel the cry behind All of Me and millennial enough change Hey Jude to Hey Dude — all in 2019. While we never get to the whys and why-not’s of these singles, which can readily prompt a debate between Beatles’ fans for not being a fitting enough tribute, let us never forget who our protagonist is.
Now somewhere on the extremes of the Atlantic, Jack moves around with a super-power he doesn’t want. It’s a dilemma. Does he make his music thus being morally upright and also closer to the normal life that Ellie warrants, or does he go onto living the life he thinks he deserved back when he was a struggling musician? The question is tough. The stakes are higher. The question moves beyond the passion and the passionate. The debate is now about a world with or without The Beatles, and everyone is on it. Even Ed Sheeran.
Charismatic, funny and seldom boring despite being utterly predictable with a popular guy-small town girl story at the helm of it all, Yesterday wins it with what it markets itself with. A musical for the muses. You feel the story happen, transition and climax. Colour coded throughout, with some of Christopher Ross’ frames making it look like a Wes Anderson coming of age, Yesterday never gets too far away. And it’s a good thing.
One can take deep satisfaction out of the lyrics of the movie’s title mirroring the plot of the movie. The celebration of The Beatles demanded their absence. Jack sings “Oh, I believe in yesterday. Suddenly, I’m not half the man I used to be. There’s a shadow hanging over me. Oh, yesterday came suddenly”. The crime has occurred. We are too early for today, too late for tomorrow. Just in time for yesterday.