Yesterday (2019) Jun 29, 2019 16:43:33 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Jun 29, 2019 16:43:33 GMT -5
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Jack Malik (Himesh Patel, left) talks with singer-songwriter superstar Ed Sheeran in Yesterday.
Sure, Yesterday is a product of Universal Pictures, one of the largest movie studios in the world, and yes, it's directed by Danny Boyle, who has made a litany of great films from Trainspotting to Steve Jobs over the course of three decades. However, in this day and age, this is what should be commended as medium-budget entertainment that still manages to captivate a large, diverse sector of the American moviegoing public. Amidst another long, hot summer — one with several critically and financially disappointing sequels, in a landscape that's getting increasingly more monopolized by one specific empire — Yesterday sticks out as the kind of singular, adult-skewed picture Hollywood used to prioritize before umpteen installments of chiseled heroes in spandex. In addition to featuring some of the most beloved songs of all time from one of the most globally impactful bands, Boyle's latest takes you back to the past in multiple ways and still manages to satisfy on its own merits.
Indeed a bit tacky, and at times too precious as opposed to perceptive, Yesterday can't be stopped by a little bit of stickiness. This is an easily likable ode to the days of songwriting, with touches of cynicism that suggest modern music is very much here today and gone tomorrow. The film follows a singer-songwriter named Jack Malik (Himesh Patel in his first major film role), who has been on a 10 year tour across neighborhood cafes, boardwalks, and dives even Greta Van Fleet tribute bands wouldn't touch, in his hometown of Lowestoft. Among those who attend or more-than-once pass-by are his friends, most notably Rocky (Joel Fry, who looks like an amalgam of Adam Driver and Robin Lopez), and his loyal manager, Ellie (Lily James).
Ellie became a fan of Jack's singing abilities after she heard him sing Oasis' song "Wonderwall" at a talent show, and has encouraged him every step of the way despite Jack's growing discouragement towards pursuing this career. Not long after he decides to pack up his guitar for good, Jack's riding his bike one night when the power goes out all over the world for 12 seconds, and amidst the distraction, he is struck by a bus and wakes up in the hospital disoriented and missing his two front teeth. While bedridden, he makes a passing Beatles reference to Ellie, who doesn't understand. When he's released, he breaks in a new guitar by singing "Yesterday" to his friends, and they are awestruck by what they perceive is an original work. Frantic and confused, Jack rushes home and uses the internet to discover The Beatles never existed, along with Coca-Cola, cigarettes, and a number of other pop culture staples.
With nothing to lose, Jack starts singing Beatles songs in the public eyes, and initially, nobody really cares — either they're not listening or they relegate it to background noise. Slowly but surely, Jack's performance of such favorites as "Let it Be," "In My Life" , and others nobody has ever heard gain traction, and even notice from global superstar singer Ed Sheeran, playing himself, who takes him tour as his opening act. Jack is eventually snatched up and signed by a ruthless agent, played by the inimitable Kate McKinnon, to embark on a tour of his own, performing songs he didn't really write.
I think of the diverse assortment of bands and artists I really love, such as the Eagles, Montana of 300, Toby Keith, and Gordon Lightfoot, and how I would struggle to remember every word from even a handful of their memorable tunes. The film lightly touches on this by showing Jack struggle to remember the lyrics and structure of songs like "Eleanor Rigby" and "Penny Lane." Sometimes he'll be working on something else, or see something that triggers the memory of a Beatles lyric or another song entirely. He seems to have forgotten "Paperback Writer," "Twist and Shout," and my personal favorite in terms of intrigue alone, "Run for Your Life," but the worldwide populist doesn't mind. Jack Malik becomes a sensation, on career cruise-control pulling instant classics out of his hat that are so good, he makes a self-effacing Sheeran concede that Jack is a better songwriter than he.
Yesterday is very much a cheery fantasy ala a film like Ruby Sparks where serious questions must be incorporated in that mental gray-space we call "the suspension of disbelief." I hardly found it a bother. Boyle and co-producer/writer Richard Curtis (About Time, Love Actually) firmly ingrain a light-hearted aura in the film that makes you appreciate Jack's grand performances and the chuckles that stem from a public bewildered by his initial confusion that the quartet never existed.
Marginally underwhelming is the film's mere flirtation with the aforementioned ideas about modern music and why Jack's rendition of such time-tested songs don't immediately connect with people. It was country singer Kenny Chesney, whose song "Noise" from a few years back described a culture so accustomed to people screaming and shouting till they didn't have a voice, and how all the surrounding pandemonium drowned out "all the dreams of this Tennessee boy." I think a similar conclusion can be drawn here. We're a culture and species now accustomed to on-demand information and ostensibly limitless access to (almost) everything we could ever want to know and what we want to hear when we want to hear it. Things take longer to "catch on" or resonate, if they do at all. I have my doubts the Beatles could be half as big as they were now, or if somebody like Bob Dylan today would even make it to a third or fourth album on a commercial label — not to mention with the current crop of agents and labels, who have gotten a lot better at stifling growth and smothering creativity.
Such ideas aren't explored to the capacity they warrant in a film with a profound "what if," not just for America and England, but the broader world. Yesterday nails the concept, but lacks on the details, yet still packs some strong moments. My personal favorite was Jack singing the instantly recognizable "Help!" in front of a roaring crowd, screaming the lyrics not simply for a captivating performance but for the purpose of exclaiming a necessary cry for help, in a scene that's disquieting to say the least. It reminded me of last month's Rocketman, and the sequence scored to the titular song by Elton John, which was equal parts beautiful and haunting. If this summer's crop of movies has taught us anything besides that nobody gives a damn about another Men in Black installment sans the original cast, or that a maligned live-action remake of a Disney property by Disney can effectively marginalize and mute a female-centric coming-of-age comedy, it's that we should never underestimate the power music and musical numbers can have in films.
Starring: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Joel Fry, Ed Sheeran, and Kate McKinnon. Directed by: Danny Boyle.