Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a struggling musician of average talent. He has three committed fans, including one who’s his manager and roadie, Ellie (Lily James). Jack is the guy who gets a gig at a major music festival on a side stage with no audience. He sings original songs, gentle ballads and ditties. His parents hope he’s going to give up this dream and go back to teaching high school students.
But then a 12-second global electrical blip changes the world and Jack’s life irrevocably. He regains consciousness after being hit by a bus during the blip to discover that not only has he lost two front teeth, but many other things are missing from the world too.
He begins to sense that things are amiss when Ellie is dismissive on hearing him say “Will you still need me, will you still feed me when I’m sixty-four" – lyrics from The Beatles’ When I’m Sixty-four. And then when his friends are moved and astounded to hear him sing Yesterday, Jack is sure something is wrong. Online searches reveal that The Beatles do not exist. In this altered reality, there is no footprint, imprint or existence of the great English rock band.
Jack sees an opportunity and begins to record one Beatles song after another. His songwriting results in Jack finding a mentor in Ed Sheeran, which catapults him to global fame. But is Jack the only one who remembers The Beatles? Will he be able to remember all the words to all the songs or will they be lost forever?
Director Danny Boyle’s film is quite a sing-along and he astutely casts Patel, who not only plays guitar and piano but also sings all the songs himself. Patel’s average musical skills and singing abilities add authenticity to the story. James is delightful in a film which is equal parts a loving homage to The Beatles and a romantic comedy. Kate McKinnon infuses energy as the ambitious record executive.
Based on a brilliant concept by writers Jack Barth and Richard Curtis, Yesterday is full of dry British wit and one-liners. It’s not a headlong tribute, but fantasy fiction that celebrates the spirit of John, Paul, George and Ringo. The overarching sentiment is summarised in this line: “A world without the Beatles would be infinitely worse". One would agree.
Endnote: If you’re overcome by nostalgia after Yesterday, then Ron Howard’s 2016 documentary (on Netflix), The Beatles: Eight Days a Week, captures the band’s live performances from 1962-66.