Yesterday (2019)

Directed by Danny Boyle

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Yesterday is remarkably delightful.  It’s a film with a simple premise that doesn’t necessarily deliver on all the narrative promises of that premise, and yet it is just so likable because the performers themselves are so likable.

Jack Malick (Himesh Patel) is a struggling musician with a loyal manager, Ellie (Lily James), and after he is hit by a bus during a worldwide blackout, he wakes up to learn that no one has ever heard of the Beatles.  Also Oasis doesn’t exist, and neither do cigarettes.  According to IMDB trivia director Danny Boyle had it in mind to suggest that neither does the color Purple exist, but to enforce that in scenes with hundreds of extras would be too complicated.

Based on that description alone you might expect some exploration of other implications of these unexplained exclusions from the world (as well as why Jack can remember them when no one else), but the film is instead just a fun little romp in the world of overnight fame and success.  Jack passes off all of the Beatles songs (or the ones he can remember at least) as his own and rides that wave to international fame.

Once the train leaves the station you might even forget about the supernatural quality of all this.  The movie treats his rise to the top with the expected challenges (maintaining existing relationships while he’s being chaperoned all over the world) and concerns itself mostly with commenting on the rather heartless, soulless reality of being a popstar.  The inciting incident acts mostly as a commentary on the industry and feeling like a fraud when your image and even your sound is out of your control.  Suddenly Jack is but a small part in the corporate machine which intends to churn him out into the world as a product.

So there seem to be some missed opportunities, but I found it hard to care when the whole thing was so unexpectedly joyous.  I mean, I wish Lily James’ character wasn’t so underwritten (her defining trait being her loyalty to and hope for affection from Jack), and I wish there was more of an exploration of the supernatural aspect of the film (who else remembers the Beatles?), but godammit I had fun watching this.

In particular I think Himesh Patel is just pretty damn great.  For a rather mainstream, mostly docile movie his character had an edge that I quite appreciated.  He felt more authentic than the protagonist of a movie like this might usually employ.  There was a sense of resentment, self-loathing and other factors that do seem ingrained in the starving artist type, especially one who finds success in passing off another artist’s work as his own.

He walks a fine line between simply being likable and quietly desperate, and all his scenes with Lily James work in the way the best romantic comedies do.  There is something genuinely affecting between them, and I guess this is all to say that casting did a pretty good job.

So that’s that.  For a movie with a suspiciously simple, wacky premise I think this all worked out quite well, and I wish they made more movies this wholesome and optimistic.

Up Next: Jojo Rabbit (2019), Tell Me Who I Am (2019), Runaway Train (1985)

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