Release Date(s)2019 (September 24, 2019)
Studio(s)Perfect World/Working Title/Decibel Films (Universal Pictures)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: C+
Yesterday is both a loving tribute to music that has been in our lives for well over 50 years and a tale about a world in which The Beatles do not exist, nor ever have. Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), a former school teacher, has dreams of being a singer. During the day, he’s a stock clerk at a department store, but at night, he plays guitar and sings at bars and clubs with paltry audiences. Though encouraged by longtime friend and manager Ellie (Lily James, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again), Jack is about to give up his dream and return to the classroom.
Jack is riding his bike home one night when a worldwide blackout occurs. He doesn’t see a bus coming, gets thrown from his bike, and hits his head. After a hospital stay, Jack sits with his friends and plays the song Yesterday. His friends, especially Ellie, are blown away by its beauty and ask when he wrote it. Thinking they’re putting him on, Jack says Paul McCartney wrote it. No one knows that name. It seems that in the 12 seconds of the blackout, The Beatles were erased from the whole world’s memory.
It’s hard for Jack to believe this but, after he keeps playing Beatles songs and receives praise for them, he decides to present the songs as his own. This brings him media attention and the interest of Ed Sheeran (as himself) who invites him to go on tour as his protégé and opening act. Later, cold-blooded Los Angeles music agent Debra (Kate McKinnon) promises him wealth and fame if he signs an exclusive contract with her.
The film follows Jack’s surreal journey as he transforms from anonymous, mediocre musician to international rock star. In rehearsal, Jack desperately tries to recollect details of some of The Beatles’ most famous numbers, including Help!, The Long and Winding Road, Let It Be, Hey, Jude, and Here Comes the Sun, and we see him performing the reconstructed songs in stadiums to massive crowds of screaming young people.
Director Danny Boyle employs this plot gimmick to explore the quest for fame, the ethics of passing off others’ work as one’s own, and the guilt that gets in the way of experiencing untainted joy. He makes us wonder whether Jack will be found out to be a fraud just as Jack wonders the same thing. But it’s the film’s reverence for the music that distinguishes it. Jack is benefiting from plagiarism, but he’s also putting great songs out across the globe. From thinking only of a fast way to fame, he comes to feel that he has a duty to restore these songs to the world.
Mr. Patel has a modest charm and an understated flair for comedy. Though the film is predicated on Jack’s get-rich-quick scheme, Patel balances Jack’s new-found fame with his relationship with Ellie, a woman who loves him and has been his primary cheerleader through mostly hard times. Jack doesn’t see this because of his pre-occupation with being a rock idol.
Ellie is Jack’s pal, psychologist, supporter, and champion. We know pretty early on that Ellie has stayed around more out of affection for Jack than to ride his coattails to fame. She’s sweet, sensitive, and shy, so she waits for Jack to make the first move, but is frustrated by the fame that’s rent them apart rather than drawn them together.
The chemistry between Patel and Ms. James doesn’t exactly burn up the screen, but they seem perfectly natural and comfortable with each other. Ms. James, in particular, has a genuineness and a smile that contrasts with Patel’s downcast manner. His Jack has been beaten down by the belief that he’s not good enough to make it big in the world of pop music, while her Ellie stands by her guy, even when things look bleak.
Director Boyle and writers Richard Curtis and Jack Barth keep the story moving briskly, and eye-popping graphics occasionally appear along with the actors to enhance excitement. The stadium scenes are reminiscent of the crowds that used to pack huge arenas to see and hear The Beatles. Infused throughout is a sense of celebration—for Jack Malik and for the actual Beatles.
Rated PG-13, Yesterday is a respectful homage combining a likable middle-class protagonist, a romance, and a bit of fantasy. It is a treat to hear timeless Beatles songs performed in a contemporary picture.
The Blu-ray, featuring 1080p High Definition resolution, is presented in the widescreen format of 2.39:1. The night sequence in which Jack is riding home on his bicycle suddenly goes completely dark, leading to his collision with the bus. The black void is highlighted by very slight illumination which lasts for just seconds. The stage performance scenes are especially colorful. The performance at the beach takes place under a bright blue sky, with the ocean as background, as Jack sings to a gathered throng. Later, during his stadium shows, elaborate lighting effects enhance the drama of the live performance. More intimate scenes, such as Jack and Ellie walking across the grass at the end of a music festival, are bathed in sunlight, with bright colors dominating.
Audio is Dolby Atmos. There’s also a DVS 2.0 track for the visually impaired, and Spanish and French soundtracks in Dolby Digital Plus 7.1. Subtitles include Spanish, French, and English for the hearing impaired. Especially with the musical performances, the clarity of Dolby Atmos really stands out. Lyrics are easy to understand and distinct instruments can be heard. The sound is crisp, never muddy. Dialogue is recorded well and its mix of ambient sound, such as crowd applause, street noise, and distant singing, is realistic. Stadium scenes are particularly impressive, providing the sound, feel, and excitement of a live rock concert.
Bonus features on the 2-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack include deleted scenes, live performances from Abbey Road Studios, a gag reel, 6 brief featurettes, and an audio commentary. A Digital Copy code on a paper insert is included in this package.
Deleted Scenes – A dozen scenes filmed but eliminated from the theatrical release are included:
- Late for School
- Nutters Italian Ice Cream
- Moscow Audience
- A Gonk
- W Hotel
- Jack Calls Ellie
- Corden & Roxanne
- Hilary in the Mirror
- Nick and Carol
- Hazel’s Selfie
Gag Reel – In one scene featuring Himesh Patel, Lily James, and others, an umbrella is picked up by the wind and flies through the scene. In a second scene with Joel Fry, Himesh Patel laughs uncontrollably in take after take.
Live at Abbey Road Studios – Three songs are recorded by Himesh Patel and accompanying musicians at the famous London recording studio.
- Yesterday – Himesh Patel’s performance is intercut with scenes from the movie.
- I Want to Hold Your Hand
- Let It Be
A Talented Duo – Director Danny Boyle and writer/producer Richard Curtis discuss the script and the casting of Himesh Patel. Kate McKinnon, Lily James, and Ed Sheeran offer comments, and Patel refers to working with Boyle and Curtis as “a privilege.”
Playing for Real – Patel auditioned for the role of Jack Malik by singing Beatles songs. He taught himself guitar but underwent intense musical practice for the film. Re-interpreting the Beatles’ songs was a daunting undertaking. Director Danny Boyle wanted the songs to have integrity. Though lip synching in a musical was the norm, a decision was made to have Patel sing live when the camera was rolling. Sheeran notes that Patel’s voice sounds authentic. Kate McKinnon notes “Jack is carrying the weight of The Beatles on his shoulders.”
Soul Mates – The relationship between Jack and Ellie—the emotional subtext of the film—is examined. Jack is oblivious to the fact that Ellie is falling in love with him. Ellie is the “heart and soul” of the movie.
Ed Sheeran From Stadium to Screen – Sheeran, playing himself, represents the famous person discovering the not-famous person. Sheeran likens elements of the script to his early career. Patel speaks highly of Sheeran’s acting ability. “It was really fun to work with him.” Sheeran was on tour during filming.
Agent of Comedy: Kate McKinnon – According to writer/producer Richard Curtis, “The devil in the movie is Kate McKinnon.” States McKinnon, “I was clawing at the opportunity” to be in the film. Patel notes that she “makes the character hilarious.”
A Conversation With Richard and Ed – Ed Sheeran discusses touring around London at the time of filming. At the end of Sheeran’s shows, the filmmakers photographed crowds in large stadiums to be used in Yesterday. Producer Richard Curtis notes that this saved the production lots of money and avoided the use of unconvincing CGI crowds.
Audio Commentary – Director Danny Boyle and writer/producer Richard Curtis note that early scenes show Jack’s inability to connect with audiences. They refer to Joel Fry as a “brilliant musician and great actor.” A montage of electricity going out around the world depicts many well-known landmarks. Several key scenes were shot in an actual car rather than a studio mock-up. Using a real audience rather than a computer-created one adds authenticity. The airport in the film is the John Lennon Airport in Liverpool. A business center doubles in the film for a luxury hotel. Boyle and Curtis note that it’s risky to shoot an entire scene without cuts. It necessitates trusting that the actors will deliver. The Los Angeles board room scene is a satirical take on the music industry’s practice of making creative decisions by committee. In the final scene, audience reactions were filmed separately from Patel singing on stage. The lighting had to be carefully controlled so the two segments would match. The finale shows a new chapter in Jack and Ellie’s life.
– Dennis Seuling