“Yesterday” is smart, funny, poignant and one of the best films of the year.
A 10-year musical failure, the talented but unsuccessful London-based Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) has just told his manager and best friend, high school math teacher Ellie Appleton (Lily James) that he is giving up his musical aspirations and going back to teaching.
“This is my last gig,” he tells her. “This is the end of our long and winding road.”
“The world is full of miracles,” she says.
“Like Benedict Cumberbatch being a sex symbol.”
On his bicycle ride home, power goes out all over the world for 12 seconds, from Citi Field in Queens, New York, to the Eifel Tower, to the Kremlin. With Jack’s bad luck, he is crossing a street just in time to be hit by a bus in the darkness.
When he wakes up in the hospital, he is missing two teeth. Ellie is naturally at his bedside. When he leaves the hospital, his friends give him a party and a gift of a new expensive guitar to replace the one the bus destroyed.
“A great guitar calls for a great song,” Jack says, as he plays “Yesterday” by The Beatles. His friends do not recognize the song.
At first, he thinks he is being pranked but soon realizes that the world he woke up in has no memory of The Fab Four ever existing. A Google search of John, Paul, George and Ringo only comes up with Pope John Paul and Donald Glover. A search of Coca-Cola only yields Pablo Escobar.
Jack decides to start singing all of The Beatles songs. He struggles to remember the lyrics, but soon puts it together. Ellie is intrigued and supportive. There is a beautiful scene where they record “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” with clapping effects enhanced by wearing rubber gloves.
Jack’s music catches the attention of Ed Sheeran, who plays himself. Jack opens for Ed at a concert, after which Ed challenges Jack to a contest to compose something original in 10 minutes. Jack comes back with “The Long and Winding Road.”
“You’re definitely Mozart,” Ed tells Jack, “and I’m Salieri, referring to the iconic rivalry of the late 1700s between the famous musicians.
His rising success leads to California and a high-powered manager (Kate McKinnon in a snarky turn). “Is this the best you can look?” she asks him. “It’s OK, we’ll figure it out.”
She also asks his parents: “When did you realize that your son is too good for you?”
The meteoric success weighs heavily on Jack, who feels guilty over playing songs that are not his own. A meeting with the record company has some interesting comments: “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band has a lot of words and is confusing ... The White Album has some diversity issues ... Abbey Road is just a road with a lot of people going the wrong way.”
If things could not get worse, Ellie confesses that she has been in love with Jack for half her life and that she is crushed that none of Jack’s beautiful love songs were written for her. “How did I wind up in the wrong column,” she asks.
In his search for clarity, Jacks meets a 78-year-old John Lennon, who never wrote a song, but shares insights: “I fought for things I believed in and won, a few times. There’s no secret to living a great life. Tell the girl you love that you love her and tell the truth to everyone that you can.”
The early 1960s songbook is joyful and uplifting. Brilliantly directed by Danny Boyle from a beautiful script by Richard Curtis, the film never has a false note, both artistically and musically.