Yesterday“, starring Himesh Patel in his first theatrical role is an interesting entry into the wish-fulfillment family of films. Patel stars as Jack Malik, a bottom rung pub musician who plays Beatles covers to crowds of nearly a half dozen (and most of those his friends). One day he wakes up to find that the entire world has forgotten that The Beatles had ever existed, and he has nearly their full catalog in his head.

It’s not an uncommon approach, even just recently was “Isn’t it Romantic” where Rebel Wilson’s character wakes up to find that the world has become a living-breathing romantic comedy, or Taraji P. Henson’sWhat Men Want,” where she wakes up to find she can read the thoughts of any man around her. In short, the stories are based around the main character being set into a world or given an ability to let them rapidly discover their paths to what they had always wanted. The arc is generally finding out that what they thought they wanted wasn’t really all it was hoped to have been. Or that they learn some profound moral lesson, after which things go back to normal and they can continue on as better members of society (think all the way back to Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol”.)

Yesterday is clearly coming from a place of sincere love. Even though Malik plays to only a few people each time, he does so in an effort to share the message of the music. Once he realizes that nobody else remembers The Beatles, or any of their songs, he finally decides to begin recording and playing them himself in an effort to find the fame and success he’s always been striving for.

(from left) Ellie (Lily James), Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) and Gavin (Alexander Arnold, back to camera) in “Yesterday,” directed by Danny Boyle.

Lily James co-stars as Ellie, Malik’s eternal superfan and manager and unrequited love of each other’s lives. Malik’s too focused on his music to ever notice her beyond being just a supportive friend. Every shot of her watching him play she gives it her all in emoting with her posture and face that she loves him with everything that she is, but he doesn’t notice. When fame comes swiftly and surely in the form of SNL’s Kate McKinnon playing super-agent Deborah, she snatches him up and bustles him off to Los Angeles. Lily knows she’s out of her depth to manage him by this point, and Malik never asks her to be with him in the way that she has needed for so long.

McKinnon is the jarring note in the film, as she comes off as far too much of a caricature as Deborah. She feels like she’s in an overplayed SNL skit, and the tone is just off, especially how everyone else in the film plays it in a more realistic vein. Everyone comes off as quick sketches of genuine people, while McKinnon is a one note cutout.

There’s some interesting notes of sincerity that keeps the film from becoming overbearing and overly preachy. It seems over the course of the film there’s been some other changes to the world as well, beyond some vanishing Beatles, though they’re as much throwaway lines, but does wind up being some interesting concepts about how the world would be different if certain aspects of the cultural landscape just had never existed.

The is also largely unique in how it resolves the story, rather than in the more traditional sense for the wish-fulfillment/miracle lesson approach. It allows for more pondering about what else may happen next. What it is exactly is a bit much of a spoiler, but suffice it to say, it works.

Yesterday will be no contender during award season, and it’s not as encompassing with the Beatles catalog as “Across the Universe”. However it works, so if you’re in the mood for an intimate and romantic character study piece on what it means to have success handed rather than truly earned, this will be a sure-thing to watch for you. Also for Beatles fans, you’ll have a blast.

Yesterday opens everywhere starting Friday, June 27th.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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