Yesterday is a romantic comedy with an edge of magical realism, directed by Danny Boyle and written by Richard Curtis - but the reviews have been very mixed. The movie is about a struggling singer-songwriter called Jack (Himesh Patel) who gets hit by a bus during a strange blackout and wakes up in a world where The Beatles never existed. Now armed with the knowledge of some of the greatest pop songs ever written, Jack rises to stardom as everyone around him is amazed by his talent.
The movie has a story about being lifted from obscurity and then facing trouble at the top that will be familiar to fans of music biopics, such as this year's Rocketman, and the formula is usually a crowd-pleaser. However, while some critics have praised Yesterday for its charm and jukebox soundtrack, others have lambasted it for failing to live up to its potential.
In general, it seems like moviegoers who are just looking for something light and uplifting with a nostalgia twist will be satisfied by Yesterday, but you shouldn't go into it expecting a complex plot or much deep thought about the real meaning of The Beatles' songs or their popularity. Here are some of the more favorable reviews of Yesterday:
"I don’t know what this movie summer full of sequels and the usual warm-weather fare would be like without an original charmer coming along like this one, but all I can say is I believe in Yesterday. This is a movie that sends you out of the theater on the happiest of highs, and that is a very good thing in a world that fortunately does have The Beatles. Queen and Elton John can move over."
"All this puts a lot of pressure on Patel to deliver, which he does with becoming modesty and undeniable talent. The actor has a sweet voice, more McCartney than Lennon, and he evokes the Beatles without slavishly imitating them. For instance, his driving take on “Help!” carries a desperation that speaks to Jack’s own situation as a man out of his depth."
"Stylishly directed by Boyle, Yesterday works because it's funny, romantic, and impeccably acted by Patel and James. Don't demand too much logic. Just enjoy the music and the fantasy element and you'll have a terrific time."
"Don’t think about it too much, just sit back and relax... Don’t expect a rich rumination on the Beatles, why their songs are so inspiring, and why they continue to reverberate in our culture. This is pure jukebox reverence."
Yes, even reviewers who liked Yesterday are advising audiences to switch off their brains while watching it, which explains why others felt dissatisfied. It seems as though The Beatles were chosen simply because of how famous and acclaimed their songs are, rather than because of any particular resonance with the movie's themes. One aspect of the premise that many reviewers felt was left unexplored was the question of whether songs written in the 1960s would have the same reception if people heard them for the first time in the 21st century, but aside from Jack's parents getting bored during "Let It Be" and Ed Sheeran suggesting that "Hey Jude" should be called "Hey Dude" instead, that question seems to be mostly left alone.
Here are some excerpts from the less favorable reviews of Yesterday:
"Yesterday is a fun thought experiment minus the thought. Or much fun... Underneath the gimmicks and the occasional flights of creative fancy is just a painfully traditional music biopic... The only difference is that we don’t know Jack, and we don’t care about him either. The songs are great, but we’re never invested in the character."
"You really could have made Yesterday about any other band in the world. There’s nothing particularly special about how The Beatles are used here... so there’s nothing really tethering the artist to the film, after all. They’re just there to provide a soundtrack that everybody knows and likes, not to have their relevance questioned or confirmed."
"It’s unclear why the need to use The Beatles’ music is even required. And that’s Yesterday‘s biggest misfire. It fails to justify why The Beatles’ music is needed short of name brand, ironic considering how disgusted the script already is with the state of music commodification... It trades on the band’s name while simultaneously saying they’re not necessary."
Unfortunately it sounds as though Yesterday doesn't quite live up to its high concept premise, or to the legacy of The Beatles, but if you go in not expecting to much you'll probably have a good time.