There’s an important scene in the middle of Danny Boyle’s new film “Yesterday.” It comes when pop star Ed Sheeran challenges the film’s star Jack Malik, who is the rising star singing and writing huge hits that seem to come from nowhere, to a songwriting contest. After Sheeran performs his song, Jack sits down at the piano and performs “The Long and Winding Road.” To think that “The Long and Winding Road” could win a pop up songwriting contest at an Ed Sheeran concert after party is highly unrealistic. And would a “new” song called “Back in the U.S.S.R.” get a rousing reaction if performed for the first time in Moscow in 2019? Doubtful. The film tries to convey that The Beatles music is universal and even if the whole world forgot all about John, Paul, George, and Ringo, the songs would still capture the attention of the whole world. As unrealistic as this may sound, the film does an excellent job of portraying how precious and important the existence of The Beatles has been and that the world should never take this for granted.
The film starts with a montage of Jack Malik, singer-songwriter from Suffolk, busking on the boardwalk, performing in empty bars, and struggling to find his big break. His support system is his best friend from childhood, Ellie, a school teacher who moonlights as his manager. After a series of failures, Jack suffers a bike accident during a mysterious power outage. When he wakes up he realizes that he’s the only one in the world that remembers The Beatles, among many other things like cigarettes, Harry Potter, and Oasis. When Jack starts performing Beatles songs he skyrockets to instant fame. He is handpicked by Ed Sheeran to be his opening act and is taken control of by Sheeran’s manager played by an excellent Kate McKinnon. McKinnon is so good in her role as a blood-sucking, money-hungry manager that you believe that her performance is probably tame compared to the real thing. Jack continues to go through the typical rags-to-riches story until his conscience gets the better of him. The love story between Jack and Ellie runs along side Jack’s rise to fame and although there isn’t a huge amount of development as to why they are not together, the performances by Himesh Patel and Lilly James are captivating and make you root for them to end up together.
As for The Beatles, they are treated with great reverence in the film. Danny Boyle and screenwriter Richard Curtis try to imagine a world without The Beatles and it is as one character says “infinitely worse.” The sad truth that is thinly veiled throughout the “Hollywood” portion of the film is that the Beatles would not be taken seriously in today’s music industry. Four piece rock-n-roll bands are roadkill in today’s hip-hop, synth world but 60 years later Paul and Ringo are still on the road and The Beatles songs are still the gold standard of popular music.
If you take away anything from this film, it should be that The Beatles songs have the power to make us smile, dance, and love each other Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.