Beatlemania, revisited in Danny Boyle’s YESTERDAY

YESTERDAY. Country, UK, Russia. Director: Danny Boyle. Cast: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Joel Fry, Kate McKinnon, Ed Sheeran, Sarah Lancashire, Camila Rutherford, Robert Carlyle. Screenwriters Jack Barth, Richard Curtis. Language: English. Runtime: 116 minutes. Venue: C Newport Mall, Jersey City, NJ. Rating: C+

So you’re a musician, just shy from being a busker, and you’re trying to make it in a world filled with performers of all shapes and sizes, styles and talents. No one, except your only fan, wants to hear you, and you’re left to marinate in an uncertain future and working as a non-entity in a factory just to make ends meet.

That’s the reality of Jack (Himesh Patel), who’s life seems to be destined to hit a brick wall and stay there until Fate, or the Gods, if you will, decides to play a little joke on him. One night upon returning home from yet another disappointment, the planet experiences a massive, global blackout. Jack gets hit by a bus. When he recovers from his ordeal, he performs Yesterday to his friends who, while loving the tune, do not recognize it or The Beatles. At all.

It slowly dawns on him and he confirms during a Google search… The Beatles have never existed. There is no trace of any song from their catalogue, no mention of John, Paul, George, or Ringo. Nothing. That, of course, leads Jack to discover, that if The Beatles never were, neither were bands that based their sound on them — for example, Oasis.

So what’s a man to do? Can it be called plagiarism if Jack ‘steals’ the songs from a group that never existed? Jack never gives this a second thought — and neither it seems, does the movie — and allows that Jack begin performing Beatles tunes that he has, through sheer memory, brought back. He becomes a local sensation, even securing a spot aside Ed Sheeran who becomes a mentor. And then America beckons under the guise of a greedy exec (played to comic perfection by Kate McKinnon) shamelessly approaching Jack to make money “and secure herself another house.” Jack, who’s struggled all his life, can’t but take the offer and face “The Americanization of Jack” while singing songs that aren’t his, all the time wondering how long can the jig last before it’s discovered his performance is a sham.

Yesterday, however, isn’t trying to tell a story about posing — even when Jack’s renditions of Beatles’ classics often skirts the kind of indie music that can be heard ad infinitum on coffee-rock stations, pretty but not especially memorable. In Boyle’s movie you are asked to really listen to the songs, pay attention to the lyrics, as if the Beatles truly were a band nearing extinction, and in that way, it’s pretty clever and unique because it places their artistry at a level of rediscovery not seen since iTunes or their Free as a Bird video from 20 years ago.

Also, In many ways, the whole premise of the world hitting a weird fugue is merely a backdrop for Boyle to tell a sunny romantic love story between a boy and a girl who are meant to be together (and it helps that both Himesh Patel and Lily James are perfectly cast; he as the unwilling, passive rock star; she as the woman who knows him best). It just takes some gentle prodding from the blackout-turned-catalyst and the man himself, John Lennon (Robert Carlyle) in a much-needed emotional scene.

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