I saw Richard Curtis and Danny Boyle's Yesterday not expecting to write about it.
I didn't like it. On the surface, it looks like an innocuous romantic comedy with a bit of Science Fiction to it. Jack Malik, played by Himesh Patel, is a struggling musician who wakes up in a different timeline where the Beatles never existed. Jack ends up recreating the Beatles' songs and finds his way to fame and fortune.
The whole movie depends on a lot of suspension of disbelief, of course. The unexplained phenomenon where the lights go out for a few seconds at midnight in the UK – and presumably worldwide – moves the world into an alternate timeline where the Beatles never became famous. Jack remembers the Beatles but nobody else does. The movie doesn't restore our reality or explain how it happened. It's an excuse to tell a weird tale about artistic creation, ethics and love.
A Baby Boomer's Fantasy
One reason I don't like the movie is that it's a weird piece of Beatles fan fiction where it insists that the Beatles made the greatest pop songs ever and the world needs them. It's like a piece of Baby Boomer propaganda where they insist that their tastes in pop music are still the best. I like Beatles songs just fine, but I resent being constantly told they're the Greatest! Ever! The subtext felt like boomers telling the young'uns they should brush up on their pop music history.
The other reason I don't like the movie is that it doesn't make any sense right from the get-go. Now, I hate to be that guy who goes "That's not how things work!" and finds the whole movie totally unconvincing, but that happened with this movie.
When the movie begins, Jack is an ex-schoolteacher in his mid-25s desperately pursuing a music career. He's busking by the seaside for change and scrambling desperately for gigs in pubs and kids' birthday parties. Then he starts singing Beatles songs, gets interviewed by local TV and Ed Sheeran's manager (played by a cartoonishly-evil Kate McKinnon) signs him to become the next global music superstar.
This fantasy might have made sense in the 1970s to the 1990s, but it doesn't ring even slightly true in 2019. Any musician nowadays would have a Youtube Channel and an Istagram account to promote themselves and their songs. Jack is a perfectly decent but unexceptional songwriter. He writes the types of mainstream, middlebrow pop ballads you expect from Ed Sheeran and Coldplay, so there was no way he wouldn't get fans and followers on social media.
Irritatingly Out of Touch
A struggling musician in 2019 would have fans and followers who would show up at his gigs. He or she would have a Patreon page and get a few dollars or pounds from fans every month. He would make money from selling merchandise like T-shirts, badges and mugs online or at a gig. Even if he was completely inept and terrible, he would have a chance to go viral because he's terrible. He would get fans who like him ironically and follow him. The movie either ignores or doesn't know how the internet and social media really work. Jack's progress through the evil, soulless corporate music industry feels like a clichéd fantasy of what most people think it's like.
The movie just didn't ring true to me. When a story feels fake, it loses me. When that happens in the first ten minutes, it becomes an endurance test for the next two hours. I ended up counting the Richard Curtis Romantic Comedy Tropes – the nutty best friend, the awkward love story, the very British comedy of self-deprecation and embarrassment that we've seen before in Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Love Actually and the Bridget Jones movies. Yesterday is a movie of Richard Curtis' Greatest Hits while using the Beatles' Greatest Hits as window dressing.