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Twelve Seconds That Altered Reality: Yesterday

Updated on July 13, 2019


Jack Malik lives the dream of musical stardom while working full time as a stock clerk for a warehouse club. After a performance at a local festival that drew hardly anybody, he has told his girlfriend/manager Ellie Appleton of his decision. After that, and following a freak but brief worldwide blackout, Jack is hit by a vehicle and taken to the hospital. Upon his discharge, Ellie buys Jack a new guitar as a welcome home gift. Ellie and a couple of friends want to hear a song from Jack, and he obliges with a song he knows well. To his astonishment, nobody else there recognizes the tune, but they are impressed. This is the first step in revitalizing Jack's career in Yesterday. Jack (Hamesh Patel) starts to list the Beatles songs he knows and records a demo. He makes copies of the CD and gives them away at work. After Ellie (Lily James) manages to book Jack on a local show, Ed Sheeran (in a fictional version of himself) invites Jack to open for him on a tour of Russia. He accepts the invitation and hires his acquaintance Rocky (Joel Fry) to be his roadie, as Ellie cannot go due to her full time teaching job.

The Russian audiences love Jack's act, and he and Ed bond as musicians. Jack's performances get the attention of record executive Debra Hammer (Kate McKinnon), who invites Jack to record an album in Los Angeles. As his fame starts to grow, so does Jack's guilt. He thinks somebody must know what he knows. He's also having a hard time remembering so many of the Beatles' lyrics, so he takes a break from recording to get some creative inspiration. He travels to Liverpool to visit the sites that first inspired the Fab Four. He learns the answers to some of his questions, and also finds he's grown too distant from Ellie.


Yesterday is a curious movie that tries to answer what music would be like without the existence of the most popular band of our time. Other popular items, including Coca-Cola and cigarettes, virtually vanish from existence as well. I had a bit of trepidation about seeing this film, as my only other experience with movies that included Beatles covers was the abysmal Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Yesterday isn't in the same league of infamy as Sgt. Pepper, but it isn't any good. The basic assumption is sufficiently light fare, but one change that is revealed is particularly upsetting. I won't divulge what happens, but I will say that Jack didn't spend enough time dong Google searches and relied far too heavily on the Wikipedia entries that appear at the start of said searches. The script comes from Richard Curtis, scenarist of Four Weddings And A Funeral, Love Actually, and the first two Bridget Jones movies. I wish this work had borrowed a key tenet from Curtis's 2013 film About Time, which tells of the restrictions of altering time. The climax changed the tone in an unwelcome way for me. I'm not always a fan of Curtis's work, but this is the first time I can remember not liking a film from Danny Boyle. Even with the change in tone, I still found Yesterday to be too lightweight of a picture that relies on the songs to bolster the story.

Patel (in his film debut) and James are appealing as the film's leads. Their main connection has been her love of his music, but Jack and Ellie have had hidden feelings for each other since adolescence. Together, they reach a point where they have do decide to live their dreams or go for a guaranteed income. Everything changes when Jack's career reaches unexpected new heights. Patel's Beatles covers are respectful, but unremarkable. Sheeran has fun in his role as a musical star who comes to admire the songs that Jack presents to the world. Fry has the most fun as Rocky, the roadie who can get a little too much into the music while he's supposed to be working. McKinnon is good when she has a funny line to say, but some of Debra's lines are supposed to be a bit dramatic. There, she seems like a sketch comic who can't find the right serious note. Musician Michael Kiwanuka and talk show host James Corden make cameo appearances, as does an uncredited Robert Carlyle.


As we get older, I realize the day will come that the music of the Beatles will no longer emanate from the lips of Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. They have created a musical legacy that will be enjoyed by future music fans. Covering a Beatles song is so difficult because their versions have become so ingrained in my mind as well as in popular culture. Yesterday takes its title from the most recorded and beloved song in their repertoire. This movie is a musical tribute to John, Paul, George, and Ringo that has more music than substance. Maybe this movie was a hard day's night for all involved, but the finished product still turned out to be a dog.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Yesterday two stars. I don't believe.

Yesterday trailer

© 2019 Pat Mills


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