Film review: Yesterday


NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, July 19th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Megan Basham reviews Yesterday, a new romantic comedy from the screenwriter of Love, Actually and Four Weddings and a Funeral.

MEGAN BAHSAM, REVIEWER: It may be a little early yet to trot out the old “feel good movie of the year” designation. But it’s going to be tough to beat director Danny Boyle’s Yesterday

CLIP: You have been profoundly unsuccessful for 10 years until about a month ago we’d call you a complete failure. Well, that’s not quite how I would put it. Now, you’ve hit an extraordinary songwriting groove and you want to be the biggest star in the world. 

After a worldwide power outage, struggling singer-songwriter Jack Malick (played by Himesh Patel) wakes in the hospital to discover he’s the only one who can remember the Beatles. “Hey Jude.” “Let It Be.” “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”  No one’s ever heard of those songs before. At least, until Jack begins to play them to the delight of his longsuffering childhood friend and manager, Ellie. She’s the only one who’s never doubted he has genius hiding somewhere inside. But what begins in pure celebration of music soon spirals into full-blown artistic theft.

CLIP: [When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking—] [doorbell] Oh, sorry, love. Good start, though. Very pretty. It’s Terry! Jack’s just playing us a new song. Oh, what’s this one called? Uh, Leave It Be. Let It Be. Oh, excellent. Well, rock on, Jack. 

At the peak (one hopes) of our current “cancel culture,” Yesterday is almost revolutionary in its kindness toward its main characters. Without giving too much away, we all know it’s not okay for Jack to claim work that isn’t his. And in other hands, one scene that deals with his duplicity would surely end in a moment of Pharisaical condemnation. Instead, Boyle resolves it with such surprising grace and generosity, you want to weep with gratitude. 

The criticism lobbed at Yesterday generally focuses on its lack of darkness. Jack doesn’t spiral into problems generally associated with stardom. But partying and drug use would be beside the point. Jack’s main problem is imposter syndrome on steroids. He needs no other issue to grapple with, especially as it allows the film to get at greater and more worthwhile themes.

CLIP: About the song, the title Hey Jude. Jude is just—it’s a bit old fashioned. Let me just give you this advice, right? Song title. Hey Dude. Umm…. Hey Dude—Hey Dude, are you sure? 

Yesterday acts as a subtle rebuke to all the musical biopics of late. Films like Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman subtly suggest only lives of artistic genius are worthy of admiration. Only those who create something the whole world holds dear can really claim fulfilled lives. Poppycock, says Yesterday. Jack’s appeal is that he’s average. He has average songwriting ability, average stage presence. The only thing about him that is above average is his love for music and his joy in sharing that love with others.

CLIP: When did you write that? I didn’t write it. Paul McCartney wrote it. The Beatles. Who? Nick, help me out here. Right, yes. Um. There’s this problem with musicians. They presume everyone else has this encyclopedic knowledge of obscure pop. In this case, The Beatles. It’s a very nice song. It’s not a very nice song, Nick. It’s one of the greatest songs ever written. Well. It’s not Coldplay. It’s not Fix You. 

Pop songs tap into our emotions in ways at once individual and collective. The story recognizes this without idolizing the individuals who possess the rare ability to write them well. It doesn’t bow at the feet of John, Paul, George and Ringo. Instead, it stands back in wonder at a world where such creation and shared experience is possible.

Though the language earns it a PG-13 rating, Yesterday is one of the most chaste romantic comedies in recent memory. Even though it trade on obstacles to love that feel especially modern.

Some reviews have argued that Lily James is so luminous and loveable as Ellie, it’s not believable that Jack wouldn’t be in love with her already.  To that I can only say, those reviewers must not know many millennial women. Being disregarded by millennial men focused on goals that don’t include serious relationships isn’t just plausible, it’s epidemic.

CLIP: I’ve been waiting half my life for you to wake up and love me. Having loved you for half a lifetime, I realized when you left that I had made a bad choice doing that. And now it’s got a bit trickier because when you were playing in pubs, we were the perfect match. But now, I’m an actual school teacher and you’re the world’s greatest singer-songwriter. No, I’m not. Except for you probably are. 

Try to think of the last big-budget romantic comedy in which an awkward “morning after” scene didn’t play a major role. But Ellie understands early on that a one-night stand with Jack will cheapen their relationship. When a later scene implies (but doesn’t show) sex outside of wedlock, the film nonetheless ties it to marriage and family, and upholds both as blessings. Do I need to tell you how Jack and Ellie’s story ends? I won’t. It’s enough to say that it celebrates the grace of life. And with a film like that, you know we should be glad.

MUSIC: [She Loves You — The Beatles]

For WORLD Radio, I’m Megan Basham.


(Photo/Universal)

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