Director Danny Boyle and writer Richard Curtis have a fascinating premise for “Yesterday,” and when all is said and done, after two hours, they—have a fascinating premise. They don’t actually do much with it, in all honesty. They take what could have been a unique and bizarre tale about an iconic band completely inexplicably being erased from all of culture around the world and turn it in to a conventional tale of rags to riches. I mean the script does nothing with the idea of the Beatles not existing. What would happen to all the singers, performers, bands, and artists they inspired? Would they cease to exist as a whole? “Yesterday” barely scratches the surface at two hours.
Jack Malik is a struggling singer-songwriter in an English seaside town whose dreams of fame are rapidly fading, despite the fierce devotion and support of his childhood best friend, Ellie. After a freak bus accident during a mysterious global blackout, Jack wakes up to discover that The Beatles have never existed. Not just that but no one has ever heard of them or the songs they’ve made. Performing songs by the greatest band in history to a world that has never heard them, Jack becomes on overnight sensation with a little help from his American agent.
In paying reverence to “The Beatles,” Boyle and Curtis surprisingly minimize their achievements in music and pop culture. They basically just shrink down their contributions and process to bite size little scenes where the whole idea of the artistic process is ignored and side stepped. What made the Beatles so mystifying was their process and how they could basically turn anything in to a hit, even the flubs in studios. For Jack it becomes a matter of remembering the music he’d loved since he was a child and replaying it for an entirely new set of ears.
There’s no struggle and or artistic suffering, and writer Curtis also never digs in to whether or not Jack ignored certain songs from their oeuvre, or if he mimicked much of their studio errors that became shining elements of the music. Also did or would Jack inspire something like Manson as Helter Skelter did? Nothing that meaty or complex is ever explored. The script confines itself mainly to a trite narrative of Jack becoming an overnight success, and his struggles in dealing with his small town life and often difficult fame. Not even the appearance of Kate McKinnon in a small role as Jack’s American agent can save what is a dull, superficial movie that seems to pitch the premise for the sake of putting them on the soundtrack and nothing more.
Does Jack even know what the meanings of these songs are? How does he even explain Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Hey Jude, or Happiness is a Warm Gun? Is he trying to replicate history of the Beatles? Wouldn’t it be more fascinating if he tried carving his own path with someone else’s art? “Yesterday” is surprisingly ho hum and bland considering its Danny Boyle, who could do so much with this type of premise. It just plays it all so safe and amounts to forgettable fluff that doesn’t offer any kind of new insight in to the Beatles.
The new release includes an alternate ending, along with deleted scenes summing up at twenty three minutes. Live at Abbey Road Studios is a ten minutes look at the star of the film Himesh Patel performing “Yesterday,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and “Let It Be.” There’s an alternate opening, a two minute gag reel, and the three minutes A Talented Duo, a look at the collaboration between Writer Richard Curtis and Director Danny Boyle for “Yesterday.” Playing for Real is a five minute peek in to the casting of the film and exploring the qualities the actors brought to the story, including Patel’s work in learning to sing and play the songs and recording his performances live.
Soul Mates is a five minutes closer look at the relationship between characters Jack and Ellie. Ed Sheeran: From Stadium to Screen is a quick three minute look at Ed Sheeran’s part in the film, and his meta-character. Agent of Comedy: Kate McKinnon is a three minute examination of McKinnon’s character and her supporting performance. A Conversation with Richard & Ed is a talk with the film’s screenwriter and the famed musician, both of whom discuss “Yesterday.” Finally, there’s an audio Commentary with Director Danny Boyle and Writer/Producer Richard Curtis, both of whom dissect the film in shockingly immense detail.