MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
If you jump down to my halo and pitchfork ratings, you will see that I’ve used the word “mild” three times in describing the new romantic comedy/fantasy/musical Yesterday. And that’s exactly the word to describe this charming and lightweight film from director Danny Boyle and writer Richard Curtis. It’s a romantic comedy without much conflict, a fantasy without much world building and a musical with only familiar songs. It’s an enjoyable two hours in the theater, but afterwards you’ll have a hard time figuring out exactly what happened on screen.
Yesterday is like a time travel movie without time travel. Let me explain. It is a common trope in time machine stories to travel to the past with a great invention or idea and lay claim to it before the original creator comes into existence. In this movie, the valuable object is the complete Beatles song catalogue.
Jack Malik (Patel) is a struggling musician who can barely gather up a dozen people to listen to his music. Often it is just his mates in the audience, including Ellie (James), his nearest and dearest friend since elementary school days.
But, one evening, there is a strange storm and the lights go out all around the world. In the sudden darkness Jack crashes his bicycle into a bus. When he awakens in the hospital, he is missing two teeth. As he is mending, Jack soon discovers that no one seems to know anything about The Beatles. He also notices that people respond with great emotion when they hear him sing the Lennon/McCartney songbook, giving him credit for the tunes. The overlooked kid from Lowestoft is quickly considered a musical genius, attracting the attention of Ed Sheeran (playing himself in self-deprecating fashion) and a big-time record executive (Kate McKinnon). Fame and fortune await, but in a second-hand way. How long can this go on, and will Jack find happiness playing purloined pop songs?
It’s fun to go on the journey with Jack, especially with the clever writing of Richard Curtis. The first hour of the film is the best, as Jack struggles to understand his changed alternative world. But then the film loses energy. like a colorful carnival balloon leaking helium. Yesterday sets up a story full of tremendous possibilities and then chooses the easiest pathway. One of the things that bothered me the most was how long it took for the record label to give Jack a backup band. Singing this music on solo guitar seemed more like a demo version than the real thing. And Jack’s fame comes so quickly, I began to wonder if this alternative history also created Jack’s fan base.
Still, it’s was nice to watch a film with likable characters and memorable songs. Yesterday makes for family-friendly viewing, providing a chance for grandparents to explain to their grandkids who The Beatles are. Because – well – to some little kids, this group never existed.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Three halos: There’s a good heart and a few good laughs in this mild musical fantasy.
One pitchfork: Some swearing, mild sexual activity, mild drinking.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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