“Yesterday” is a heartwarming and comedic modern spin on Beatlemania, the rabid craze of Beatles fans when the band peaked in popularity during the 1960s. Directed by Daniel Boyle, the movie explores a world where nobody except for Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) remembers the Beatles after a strange and inexplicable worldwide blackout.
Malik, a retail worker by day and musician by night, reacts to this blackout and apparent collective amnesia with panic, determined to remember all the Beatles songs he can and share them with the world. One thing leads to another, and it doesn’t take long before Malik is swept up in the superficiality and inauthenticity of Hollywood and the entertainment industry, with a little help from his friend, Ed Sheeran.
“Yesterday” is remarkable in its representation of an Indian man as the lead of a comedy movie, breaking the stereotype of the nerdy and socially unaware Indian tech worker. What’s even more remarkable is the fact that Malik’s ethnicity is never discussed in the film — despite existing stereotypes, nobody questions an Indian pop star climbing the world charts. The portrayal of Malik’s family is hilariously realistic, showing the tough love dynamic between Malik and his parents; both parties are frequently frustrated at each other but show affection in their own ways.
Boyle’s directorial choices in the movie are also very well done, with lots of colorful lighting choices and interesting camera angles that visually reflect the buildup of emotional turmoil Malik goes through while passing off the music of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison as his own.
The movie’s lead might break the mold, but the supporting cast has a little more trouble doing so. The main romantic interest of the movie, Ellie Appleton (Lily James) is immediately likeable and realistic, but isn’t fully fleshed out in the plot.
In particular, Appleton’s presence in the movie fails the Bechdel test — she is never seen engaging with another female character about something other than a man and is only discussed in relation to a man. Appleton is evidently aware of her own self-worth and success, but her character development is left wanting.
Meanwhile, Malik’s best friend and tourmate, Rocky (Joel Fry), falls into the dumb and goofy sidekick role, which admittedly adds to the hilarity of the movie as a whole.
The “villain” of the movie, Malik’s manager Carol (Sophia Di Martino), encapsulates every negative stereotype about Hollywood and the entertainment industry as a whole. She is comically avaricious — passing off her diamond encrusted, white marble beach mansion as mere pocket change — and she lacks emotional depth, indicating that her money-hungry ways have been with her since day one.
“Yesterday” is self-aware of its reliance on character tropes to drive the comedy of the movie forward. All of this is made up for by a soundtrack that pulls at the heartstrings of the viewer, with songs from the Beatles discography and — surprisingly — just one Sheeran song.
While it’s clear that “Yesterday” doesn’t take itself too seriously, the movie proves successful in breaking boundaries and doing justice to what one can argue is the greatest band of all time.
Contact Lakshanyaa Ganesh at lakshanyaaganesh ‘at’ gmail.com.