‘Yesterday’ is one of the best movies of the year

Don McLean once wrote about the day the music died. Imagine a world where The Beatles died, or just never seemed to exist … except to one man. Welcome to Danny Boyle’s amazingly heartwarming and crowd-pleasing film, Yesterday. I am in love with this movie and let me tell you why.

Jack Malik (cinema newcomer Himesh Patel) is a struggling musician who is about to go back to teaching after a long line of uneventful gigs. He’s a signature voice stuck in the wrong musical era. With an extremely loyal manager who he may or may not have feelings for in Ellie (Lily James) and a small group of friends and non-believing parents, Jack’s about quit when something wildly odd happens.

All the power goes out in the world for a matter of seconds, and when Jack wakes up after an accident, an alternate timeline has suddenly erased The Beatles and their music. Well, it has left everyone’s mind and the world except for Jack. He plays “Yesterday” and his friends are hearing it for the first time, through him.

This is one of those films where I didn’t feel like leaving the theater. My face was glued to the end credits. I walked into the movie as a casual admirer of The Beatles and their music, with an adoration for a handful of their songs. I left humming the tunes and living inside the world that Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr created. I didn’t want to leave it. It’s one of those rare magical experiences in a movie where you are swept away into an alternate universe that features mat hat “what ifs” and takes you on a ride.  Yesterday makes you feel very good about tomorrow.

As Jack plays more hit songs that people are hearing for the first time, he finds his own life changing at lightning speed. The surrealism goes into hyper drive when Ed Sheeran shows up and brings his cutthroat manager (the reliable Kate McKinnon, who can slice and dice lines such as “drink from the chalice”) along. Instead of putting on his seatbeat and going for the ride, Jack starts to be overwhelmed with doubt.

Imagine it. You are the only one who knows one of the most legendary catalog of songs, but when you google the band name, an insect keeps showing up. It turns out the seismic event didn’t just erase The Beatles. Some well-timed comedy arrives in the other things Jack knows that others do not. Does he keep singing and become a legend, or does he tell the truth, even if people won’t understand it?

The key to enjoying Yesterday is to not hope for answers to everything. This isn’t a science fiction or mystery novel where the bows are placed on top of the gift and the knots are all perfectly tied in the end. You won’t find out why it happened or the meaning behind it all. Just get swept up in the music, which finds new life through the voice of the film’s star, Patel.

He’s done a handful of television shows and shorts, but this movie will rocket him into the Hollywood prime time for sure. It’s a multi-faceted performance. He does all the singing, showcasing a voice that sounds like a mixtape of McCartney and Lennon dubbed together. Both electric and terrified, Patel doesn’t just sing the songs and leave, but he climbs inside the tales behind them, such as Eleanor Rigby, Liverpool, Strawberry Fields, and Abbey Road. Boyle and Richard Curtis, who wrote script, never forget about their central tribute here.

Curtis, the auteur behind Four Weddings and a Funeral and Love Actually, laces the music-themed ride with a slow-burn romance between Jack and Ellie, which is superbly played by Patel. James, who wooed me in Baby Driver, knows how to be sweet and earnest while being fiercely honest at the same time. She is the conscience in Jack, the person who can look at him and reset his clock with a stare. The two have unbeatable chemistry, never losing your trust for a second. The film is anchored by a sweet Daniel Pemberton score.

Boyle, a wildly innovative director who has danced around every genre over a 20 year career, knows how to handle the whimsical “in a world” story with some much-needed panache, but never forgets this film is meant to make you feel good and send you adrift. Here’s a guy who has been to space with Sunshine, made a Bond film, created a restoration of drug-fueled salvation with Trainspotting, hit the high note with Slumdog Millionaire and dove inside the mind of Steve Jobs. He’s a guy who buys one of everything at the antique store so he can stare at it for hours at home. A Beatles-shaken time warp was right up his alley.

Boyle and Curtis are a perfect match for this material, because they have been around the block and know how to tap into multiple genres without losing that earnest indie vibe that this film needs. If it goes too commercial, just like Jack becoming too globally famous, the integrity of the film dies.

I smiled a lot during this movie, and for reasons after which I would have to buy you a cup of coffee to explain why. The best films cast a spell on you, deleting the worries of the outside world for a couple hours. Music-themed movies are a soulful bunch, with recent wonders like Once and Begin Again cutting straight to the heart of that faithful connection between great music and romance.

A hat tip to Joel Fry, who plays Jack’s loyal if hard-headed friend, Rocky, for bringing the laughs. There is a hilarious scene where Jack tries to play “Let it be” for his parents, and they keep interrupting him, asking for the name of the song and messing it up each time.

There is a scene near the end that will stun you, because it opens up so many iconic and bittersweet possibilities. The “twist” people are talking about with this film doesn’t disappoint.

At the end of the day, Yesterday is about the immortal power of music, and its effect on people of all ages. It’s an addiction to music that brought Jack and Ellie together, but will it be enough to keep them there? Yesterday breathes that addiction to the Beatles back into you as the movie plays out. A day and age where a song meant the world to someone. It shoots straight for the heart and connects where so many films fail.

This isn’t just a great movie. It’s a celebration of The Beatles, music, and love. It’s one of the best films of the year. Go see it. I may be sitting next to you.

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