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Review: The Unabashed Fantasy of 'Yesterday'

Ed Johnson-Ott doesn't seem to mind that this film only has one foot set in reality.

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James Corden and Himesh Patel in 'Yesterday'

James Corden and Himesh Patel in 'Yesterday'

The Yesterday trailers that have been running for nearly two months made the movie seem magical, and I’ve been looking forward to it as my go-to film of the summer for weeks.  

In fact, it turns out to be a delightful movie with magical parts. It also contains a few scenes with significant flaws that I’ll detail later. But the strong parts greatly outweigh the weak. It’s a good movie and you should go see it.

The plot is straightforward. Floundering musician, Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), a Brit of Indian descent, gets hit by a bus during a brief world-wide power outage. When he regains consciousness in the hospital, he discovers a world in which no one has ever heard of Google, Coke, or most astonishingly for him, the Beatles.

As no one has ever listened to "I Want to Hold Your Hand", "Let It Be", "Hey Jude", "Yesterday", or anything else by the Fab Four, Jack appropriates the Beatles’ catalog. Malikmania ensues.

Yesterday’s storyline is one that’s not to be examined too closely. We’re operating in a fantasy world here and most of the massive plot holes can be forgiven. If your searching for credibility, though, you’re going to be disappointed.

Richard Curtis co-wrote this film with Jack Barth. Curtis also wrote and directed the popular rom-com, Love Actually. The thing that sets the two movies apart is that while Love Actually attempts to walk a blurred line between fantasy and reality (not always successfully, in my opinion), Yesterday goes all-in on the fantasy.

Of course, one thing that makes the fantasy work is the Beatles music soundtrack. It’s difficult to get too bent out of shape about reality while you’re humming “Yellow Submarine” or “Strawberry Fields.” Jack displays the requisite reverence for the source material and does a nice job performing the iconic tunes.  

In a nice little subplot, Jack gets his big break when he opens for current real-life superstar, Ed Sheeran playing himself. Eventually, the self-described “Irish ginger” proclaims “You’re Mozart, I’m Salieri.” If you’re a Beatles fan, you should enjoy this film.

Besides Patel and Sheeran, the three supporting characters who stand out are Jack’s LA manager Deborah (Kate McKinnon), his former manager\best friend\secret crush Ellie (Lillie James) and his slacker buddy Rocky (Joel Fry).

You Game of Thrones fans may recognize Fry as Hizdahr zo Loraq. Fry’s Rocky appears in several scenes to provide welcome comic relief when the weight of super-stardom and the guilt of plagiarizing John and Paul gets the best of Jack. As I’m not up on Thrones trivia, I don’t know if that’s jarringly out of character or not.

McKinnon reprises her usual shtick as the prototypical LA sleazebag and gets a hefty share of the best lines. I like McKinnon a lot, and she’s perfect for this role, although it would be nice to see her in something where she’s not playing smarmy for a change.

James has become a pretty heavy hitter over the past few years with significant roles in “Downton Abby,” “Cinderella,” “Baby Driver,” “Darkest Hour,” and “Mama Mia! Here We Go Again,” among others, so it’s no surprise she’s not awed playing opposite a comparative newcomer crooning sixty year old love songs.

The long unconsummated romance between Jack and Lillie is sweet and natural. That they’re best friends who grew up together doesn’t feel like a stretch. I was rooting for them despite Jack’s inexcusable larceny.

There are three additional supporting characters that bring an outright surrealistic vibe to the fantasy. And although their appearances are brief, all three embody the heart of the movie. Not being into spoilers, I’ll let you discover them for yourselves.

About those flaws, some of the scenes are unnecessarily cluttered with too many characters and plot-lines crashing clumsily into each other. And there are those holes big enough to fly a Boeing 737 through. Chunks of the film feel like the makers are saying pay no attention to what’s going on here, to indulge us, and that gets to be a little lazy.

Like I said though, screw the holes.This is unabashed fantasy. The thing that really pissed me off was they never played “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road"?

Other than the soundtrack of Beatles jewels, the thing I liked best about Yesterday is that though things may get wrapped up in the rom-com fashion, the conclusion isn’t cartoonish. The whole thing doesn’t turn out to be a dream. Jack doesn’t come back to the real world when he gets hit by another bus. Life in this universe simply goes on, bra “ob-la-di, bla-da.”