Director Danny Boyle has championed some unique stories into films, including 28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire, and Trainspotting. His 2019 film Yesterday fit into this grouping nicely, a very British story about a singer/songwriter named Jack, played by Himesh Patel (The Aeronauts), who encounters a miracle of sorts: a solar event that changes several aspects of the world. The key change? The world never knew a band called The Beatles. But the twist is only Jack can remember The Beatles. It’s a goodhearted drama with a dose of comedy and a bit of a love story. It’s also science fiction. Yesterday is now streaming on HBO Max, along with other digital streaming platforms.
Lily James (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Baby Driver) plays Jack’s adorable part-time manager and full-time schoolteacher Ellie, who couldn’t be more obvious that she wants to mean more to Jack than a childhood friend and ally in getting new gigs to play. In the seaside town of Lowestoft, Jack is ready to give up on his dream of being a rock star. But just as he pushes his dream and Ellie aside, a solar event occurs, causing a brief worldwide blackout. When the planet reboots, Jack–and only Jack–notices subtle differences, the biggest is when he sings covers of songs from The Beatles, everyone hears them for the first time. But the conceit is actually far better than what’s in the movie trailer. Most people don’t really care about the songs. So Jack still has an uphill struggle to get noticed.
With the catchy, snappy feel of That Thing You Do, and incorporation of a band’s songs throughout the film like used in Bohemian Rhapsody, this quirky tale is fresh, new, and cheery. The first half of the film is almost magical in execution by director Boyle. It’s only good–not great–after that. Kate McKinnon (Bombshell, The Spy Who Dumped Me) plays a bitter Los Angeles band manager whose every scene is like scratches on vinyl. But along the way Jack encounters pop star Ed Sheeran playing Ed Sheeran, and he’s accompanied by a roadie friend that brings some great humor to the journey, played by Joel Fry (Requiem, Game of Thrones). Keep an eye out for Lamorne Morris (Jumanji: The Next Level, Bloodshot) as a record company marketing manager.
You just know there’s a big surprise looming at film’s end, and there are more than one, thanks to characters played by Happy Valley’s Sarah Lancashire, Justin Edwards (1917), and a smartly cast Robert Carlyle (The Full Monty, The World is Not Enough, 28 Weeks Later) in a surprise role, plucked from Boyle’s Trainspotting days. An overall good film albeit with some dips in the writing and execution but a satisfying ending makes for recommended viewing.
Those parallel timeline/alternate reality components aren’t full-on The Man in the High Castle dramatics, but they work quite well to frame a quaint tale, and an enjoyable movie showcasing the talents of leads Himesh Patel and Lily James. The world event that changes everything is nicely handled, the uphill battle is clever, the recording montage is brilliant, and the cozy, local British town is the perfect setting for the film.
With no new movies and everyone smartly staying away from theaters, it’s a good time to revisit some of these recent theatrical gems you might have missed. Catch Yesterday now streaming on HBO Max, and here on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital at Amazon, along with other streaming platforms.