Film Review: “Yesterday”

“Yesterday”
Rated PG-13
116 Minutes
Released June 28

When I saw the ads for “Yesterday”, I was dubious that a movie based on a world where no one remembers the Beatles would make sense. I was wrong. This film not only works – it is one of the best films of the year. Probably no other director could have made it work like Danny Boyle. Boyle has the sensitivity, storytelling skill and philosophical mindset needed to craft this unique cinematic/musical story. It reminds me of the under-celebrated, brilliant 2017 movie Baby Driver in that the music is an integral part of the emotional narrative and of the film’s construct. 

Beatles songs, arguably some of the best poetry ever written set to some of the all-time best hauntingly melodic/ bluesy melodies, are the backbone of this story. Could Beatles music make the same dramatic impact with today’s kids as it did in 1964? The movie unleashes a flood of philosophical musings on the universal nature of communication, time, art, fame, money, success and love.

Himesh Patel and Lily James carry this movie perfectly. Patel has been on a British soap opera for nine years, though he’s not recognizable to American viewers. No problem. His natural musical talents combined with his superb acting skill endow his Jack Malik with a charming innocence and magnetic approachability. James comes from a family of thespians. She won her breakout role as Cinderella in the film of the same name in 2015. She has the skill to add fascination to her sweet and innocent character Ellie.

Ed Sheeran, playing himself, is charming as a sounding board for the pitfalls that fame presents for an artist. A seasoned performer, he has a “been there-done that” reaction to everything Jack is encountering as he navigates the world of superstardom. Kate McKinnon endows Debra Hammer, Ed’s and Jack’s single-minded power agent with hilarious predatory physicality and speech patterns. 

This is Patel’s first feature film role. He has a completely natural style of singing – he’s not a professional musician, yet he’s graced with a lyrical voice. He learned piano as a child and taught himself electric guitar as a teen. As he puts it, “I’m not really a musician…I’m an actor first, and a musician second.” Since a major part of a great musical performance is the same ability to radiate charisma that an actor must channel, it works. Charisma, combined with Patel’s natural innocence as a musician, makes him a perfect instrument to show today’s audience how rich the Beatles’ music is. Composer David Pemberton has beautifully rearranged their songs to work with one soft, plaintive voice.

The Beatles were a group of unassuming guys who happened to be extremely talented, who were having great fun doing their own thing. Innocence is what drove the audiences to swoon over the Beatles. Innocence is what drives this movie. With Danny Boyle at the helm this film seems to take on a life of its own. “Yesterday” is a refreshingly unique story of many layers and a commentary on the warp-speed communications paradigm frames our lives today.

Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which has been the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people.  She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. kboole@gmail.com

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