MOVIE BUFF-ET: Beatles’ music, lore the strength of romcom ‘Yesterday’

Himesh Patel in Yesterday / Photo: Jonathan Prime, Universal Pictures

I not sure whether Academy Award-wining director Danny Boyle’s latest film “Yesterday” works better as a light-weight romantic comedy or as a love letter to the Beatles, but either way the film hits the spot like a cool a sip of lemonade on a summer afternoon.

The movie certainly is both, and is quite effective in the moment, though there’s really not a lot to it. The general plot itself would work as well as a Lifetime movie, and its central conceit could be shifted around in support of just about any bit of influential pop culture.

However by using the Beatles as the catalyst for this trifling love story, no doubt, makes the film better. Our familiarity with and the likability of John, Paul, George, and Ringo’s most popular works buys the film a great deal of good will.

I mean, who doesn’t like the Beatles or at least know of them?

Can you really imagine a world without their music or if you were the only one who knew of it?

That’s the position our lead Jack (Himesh Patel) finds himself in after a worldwide incident erases the knowledge of the Beatles and their songs from the Earth’s collective memory, except for our struggling singer-songwriter.

When Jack plays “Yesterday” for his friends, they don’t recognize McCartney’s chestnut. As he reels off a half dozen other Beatles hits to his friends, they sit dumbfounded, including school teacher Ellie (Lily James), his best friend/manager/roadie/groupie all rolled up into one.

Jack is blind to Ellie’s longtime love for him that dates back to their teenage years. Part of that is because of his self-absorbed attempt to find stardom as a musician at her insistence, and part of it is because he’s afraid he might lose what they have if he makes a move.

However, everything changes when Jack begins to play Beatles songs in his sets, and uploads a recording of five of their songs to the Internet. Almost overnight, he goes from being a small-time busker to being hailed as a song-writing genius and an overnight, world-wide sensation. Before you know it, Jack is palling around with Ed Sheeran and is making an album with a hot-shot agent and producer Debra (Kate McKinnon) that is being hailed as the greatest of all time before its release.

Of course, his new career separates him from Ellie, who he dearly misses, and he also begins to feel the guilt for appropriating the Beatles music as his own material even if no one knows.

Himesh is charming as Jack, and his performances of a dozen or more Beatles tunes works. His performance of those great songs is the film’s greatest appeal. It’s fantastic to hear them played on a theater’s state-of-the-art sound system, knowing that nearly everyone around singing along in their heads if not out loud.

Likewise, James is adorable in the underwritten role as Ellie. The unrequited nature of her character’s love for Jack adds some depth to the part, and James mines as much out of the role as she can. There’s just not a ton there.

Sheeran’s not an actor, but he doesn’t mind making a little fun of his image, and having a real pop star in his role sells the part like few actors could.

McKinnon, though, is too extra for the tone film, even though it is a comedy. Her performance borders on camp.

Boyle made the film for all types of Beatles fans, and crafted some subtle and not-so-subtle nods, references, and homages to the legend, lore, and music of the Fab Four.

Bits of lyrics slipped into the script and references are found throughout the set design, locations, and actions of the characters. Imagery and sounds from various songs are replicated throughout the movie.

The film will be highly re-watchable for Beatles fans as an Easter egg hunt for Beatles trivia. In one sense, the more you like and know about the Beatles, the more you may appreciate the movie, but then again maybe not.

As excited as I was to notice all of that, it did at times take me out of the movie a little, but without them, the film would lose an aspect I greatly appreciated.

I enjoyed the movie, and certainly appreciated Boyle’s attention to detail and the craft he put into the movie, but in the end the story is kind of flimsy and predictable. The movie’s pleasant but unsubstantial.

(PG-13) 1 hr. 56 min.
Grade: B

Classic Corner: Metropolis

Sci-fi aficionados and burgeoning fans alike are in for a treat each Tuesday in July as Turner Classic Movies features a tour through some of the best the genre has to offer with its “Out of this World” celebration.

The event kicks off on July 2 when TCM dusts off some of the oldest sci-fi films in their library starting at 7 p.m. (CT) with pioneer French filmmaker George Melies’ “A Trip to the Moon” from 1902.

Next up at 7:30 p.m., is German Expressionist Fritz Lang’s seminal classic “Metropolis” from 1927, and his 1929 followup “Woman in the Moon,” which has a plot that will remind some of John Houston’s “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” from 1948 airs at 11:15 p.m.. Similar stories, but vastly different settings.

At 1:15 a.m. 1936’ “Things to Come,” directed by William Cameron Mezies and written by H.G. Wells takes the spotlight. The film might seem quite campy to a modern audience, but like “Metropolis” before it, the film’s design work shaped the way film goers thought of the future.

Finally at 3 a.m. the 1940 film cut of the serial “Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe” plays. This film is a precursor to film franchises like George Lucas’ Star Wars franchise as well as the Marvel super-hero films that dominate the box office today.

New In Local Movie Theaters

  • Yesterday(PG-13) 1 hr. 56 min. (trailer)
  • Playing at: AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle Hills, Bentonville Skylight

  • Annabelle Comes Home(R) 1 hr. 46 min. (trailer)
  • Playing at: AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle Hills, Malco Rogers Towne, Bentonville Skylight

  • The Other Side of Heaven 2: Fire of Faith(PG-13) 1 hr 50 min. (trailer)
  • Playing at: Malco Pinnacle Hills