Danny Boyle’s latest film, Yesterday, is not so much an homage to the music of The Beatles so much as it is a movie that includes their music. As such, it’s kind of like watching a very long music video dedication with cover songs littered throughout. Though Yesterday is a light and conventionally enjoyable movie, it doesn’t have much to say nor does it know exactly what it wants to be.
Himesh Patel stars as Jack Malik, a budding singer who once played at a school competition and, with the help of his best friend and manager Ellie (Lily James), has been trying to make it ever since. On the brink of throwing in the towel and going back to teaching, a freak accident finds Jack in a world where no one but him remembers The Beatles.
Considering the ways in which Jack uses The Beatles’ music and how much the songs and iconic locations are peppered throughout the film, it’s not much of a tribute to the iconic band. After Ellie admits her feelings for Jack, the story turns into a budding romance more than anything else. That’s not a bad thing, but the film doesn’t start out that way so much as it pivots in that direction without specifically meaning to. In fact, Yesterday keeps trying to bestow its lessons about the ways in which fame isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, or how the music industry can corrupt the creative process, and even that seeking other people’s validation above loved ones is a big no no.
The messages are lost, however, in a string of meaningless and empty platitudes. Jack is a regular guy just trying to make it, but there’s no drive that gets him from one thing to the next. He’s running on fumes, sure, but the character is also a passive participant in everything that happens to him, which makes a lot of story arcs that much less gratifying. Additionally, Richard Curtis’ screenplay is rather aimless, which is largely to blame for why Jack is as lost as he is throughout. The film functions a lot like a swerving vehicle, moving in and out of lanes, unable to steer clearly, but hoping to make it smoothly to its destination. What the film ultimately lacks is a sense of urgency and it’s bogged down by an overall lethargy that’s responsible for a loss of momentum about halfway through.
It winds up being a feel-good film that plays it safe. It has several chances to lean into becoming a satire about the music industry, but never goes all in. Yesterday wants to be multiple things: a sweet romcom, a scathing take on the money-hungry music business, and a tribute to The Beatles, but the pieces never come together. All of these things would be satisfactory on the surface, but the film is often bereft of heart and won’t make you feel anything but indifference.
Yesterday wants to be multiple things: a sweet romcom, a scathing take on the money-hungry music business, and a tribute to The Beatles, but the pieces never come together.