“Yesterday”: Imagine There’s No Beatles

Himesh Patel as Jack Malik in Yesterday (Photo by Jonathan Prime, © 2019 Universal Studios)

In a switch from his usual film style featuring intense drama with a high-octane pace and sound track, director Danny Boyle in Yesterday gives us a charming, lighthearted, tender, humorous film that nostalgically celebrates the music of the Beatles through the character of Jack Malik, a struggling nobody singer-songwriter played by Himesh Patel (EastEnders).

Lily James (Downton Abbey) portrays Ellie, Jack’s best friend/manager/roadie/driver, who has been harboring a crush on the clueless Jack since they were young teenagers.

The main plot device is clever: after a freak event, Jack wakes up in a world where the Beatles never existed . . . which presents an opportunity. When Jack starts singing their songs from memory, his success as a musician immediately takes off, but as fame and adulation for his “genius” grow into a worldwide phenomenon, he begins to suffer uncomfortable consequences.

Kate McKinnon plays Jack’s steel-hearted agent in Yesterday. (© 2019 Universal Pictures)

Comedian Kate McKinnon (SNL, Ghostbusters) is hilarious as an over-the-top, ruthless, mercenary manager and producer. British singer Ed Sheeran plays himself, sending himself up as the famous musician who gives Jack his first professional opportunity and is then surpassed by him. Actor-musician Joel Fry plays Rocky, Jack’s scruffy, dubious friend who becomes his on-tour road manager.

Ed Sheeran (right) plays himself in Yesterday. (Photo by Jonathan Prime, © 2019 Universal Studios)

This film features witty humor, great music, a love story, and a feel-good ending—what’s not to like? And what a breakthrough for its star, the son of East Asian immigrants. For 9 years, starting at age 16, Patel played Tamwar Masood in BBC TV’s EastEnders. Now 28, Patel is enjoying his first leading role in his first movie, and the film is turning into a big hit. He does all his own singing and guitar and piano playing, beautifully rendering the many well-loved Beatles songs.

Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) becomes famous beyond his wildest dreams, but as his star rises, he risks losing his childhood best friend, Ellie (Lily James). (Photo by Jonathan Prime, © 2019 Universal Studios

It’s so interesting and revolutionary that Boyle cast Patel in the lead without regard to his color or ethnic origin, and that Patel’s love interest in the film is white. Even more interesting is that the color or ethnicity of all the film’s characters is irrelevant to the plot. This film is truly an example of a diverse color-blind production.

As his fame rises, Jack realizes he needs to get back to where he once belonged. (Photo by Jonathan Prime, © 2019 Universal Studios)

The biggest bonus to seeing this film is enjoying and appreciating the Beatles’ music with “new” ears, so to speak, as the audiences in the film hear it for the first time and are bowled over. Perhaps the film will introduce younger generations to the musical magic and genius of the Beatles.

Himesh Patel as Jack Malik in Yesterday (Photo by Jonathan Prime, © 2019 Universal Studios)