“Yesterday,” released June 28 by Universal Pictures, follows English songster Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), who is, simply put, hopelessly unnoticeable.
For the better part of a decade, Jack has busked his way around Suffolk, England, getting by with gigs at the lowest-profile restaurants and hotels, with the occasional children’s tent at a music festival thrown in. It’s not hard to understand his lack of success: even his catchiest song is missing a necessary charm, and he’s not especially handsome — flaws industry professionals are more than happy to point out.
His luck runs out entirely, or so he thinks, when the entire globe suffers a 12-second blackout as he rides his bike home one night, leading him to crash into a bus. When he wakes up the next morning, he’s lost two of his front teeth.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world has lost The Beatles.
No vestige of the Fab Four can be found — not on the Internet nor even in Jack’s extensive collection of vinyl records. When he breaks in a new guitar with one of the band’s most famous tunes, his friends are moved to tears, wondering how he could have penned something so breathtaking. Which gives him an idea.
Jack hits the underground music scene once more, this time armed with dozens of classics from “I Saw Her Standing There” to “Let It Be,” and before long is launched to international stardom. He gets everything he ever wanted, but before long finds himself shirking what’s important in life — and becomes increasingly unable to live the lie.
It may not find a permanent spot in many moviegoers’ memories, but “Yesterday” is just the breath of fresh air in an exceedingly dull summer movie schedule needs, and a perfectly effective boost of soulful serotonin for Beatles diehards and newcomers.
Though its pairing of director Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire,” “28 Days Later”) and writer Richard Curtis (“Love Actually,” “About Time”) — each an icon of British cinema for very different reasons — is curious, the resulting film is a respectable combination of their respective trademarks. Curtis shows off his fail-safe instinct for irresistibly charming escapism, while Boyle injects a kaleidoscopic energy into a potentially quick-to-tire premise.
However, the heart of “Yesterday” lies in the on-screen talent. Patel makes a remarkable feature-film debut, bringing just the right amount of everyman charm and joyous musicianship needed to bring Jack to life. Lily James, playing love interest Ellie, makes the most of the limited characterization she’s given and gives the manic-pixie-dream girl-esque school teacher a convincing emotional core and uncanny likeability. Comedienne Kate McKinnon makes for a deliciously malignant talent manager, and Ed Sheeran — playing himself — shows a knack for subdued, dry humor while not overstaying his welcome.
Still, the film can’t help but display one of Curtis’ historic weaknesses: his tendency to meander. “Yesterday” could have easily been a tight 90 minutes rather than 116 were it not for the presence of several unnecessary subplots, all of which are tidied up far too conveniently. It gives into the urge to fabricate tension via tired tropes, including a frustrating dream sequence fake-out. And those hoping this movie has the guts to dive into the inevitably messy implications of its premise — for instance, just how much pop culture wouldn’t exist, or be nearly as good as it is, without The Beatles — will likely end up disappointed.
But odds are those who buy a ticket for “Yesterday” are doing so rather to hear their favorite tunes presented in the context of a fun, lighthearted, innocuous fable, and on that front the movie delivers. There is a clear love for music and creativity woven throughout the film — an early montage of Jack’s demo recording sessions will send chills down the spine of anyone who ever tried to put their own music on tape. And even if you’ve never touched a guitar or pressed your lips to a microphone, if you go into “Yesterday” with lenient enough expectations, you’re sure to leave with the urge to — ahem — “Twist and Shout” all the way home.
This is reporter John Battiston's first movie review for the Times-Mirror. He can be reached at email@example.com.