From the outside, Danny Boyle’s new movie “Yesterday” looked like a sure thing.
The trailers and ads showed us glimpses of a film in which the songs of the Beatles were introduced in the present day to a world that had missed or forgotten them. And the musician playing “She Loves You” and “I Am the Walrus” to 2019 people was a South Asian.
So we were going to get several things we like: Yeah, yeah, yeahing, screaming teens, good-humor, a unified worldview, and all of it brought to us by one of our heirs — given the birthrates, it seems likely at the moment that the Indians will inherit the Earth.
Naturally viewers who went into the theater thinking they knew the attractions of the film were going to be disappointed. And pleased, too. “Yesterday” does give us a bunch of the old songs, the songs many of us have had as the soundtrack to our lives.
But the story itself just about had to be a disappointment and it is. It would have taken masses of imagination and restraint to make the story idea into a winning movie. As it is, writer Richard Curtis, who did “Love, Actually” and “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” gives the film one or two of his signature minor characters, and we have to be satisfied with that.
Hardworking and bright Jack Malik (Himesh Patel from the UK soap “East Enders”) is just about to give up on writing and performing songs. Nobody but his friend Ellie (Lily James) recognizes his talent. Is this a story set-up you’ve heard before? Rocky was just about to give up on boxing, having been booted from his gym.
Then something happens, and what it is we’ll never know. The lights all go out in Massachusetts and all over the world for 12 seconds, and when they come back on, nobody remembers anything about the Beatles, Coca-Cola or Harry Potter.
Associated books, advertising signs and records seem to have disappeared, too.
But Jack is hit by (or hits) a bus during that 12-second period. And he doesn’t forget. When Ellie gives him a Martin six-string after his emergence from the hospital, he plays “Yesterday” for her and their friends. Hearing the song fresh, they are enthusiastic about it.
Soon he is “discovered” by likable pop star Ed Sheeran — who, incidentally, is a real pop star, though one wonders how well he is generally known. So Jack agrees to go to Los Angeles to record for an evil, money-grubbing industry type played right over the top by Kate McKinnon, probably just so the movie has a recognizable American in it.
The record company is so competent (?!) that they build a huge and enthusiastic audience for Jack, who performs with a band on the roof of a small English seaside hotel that Ellie had earlier booked him into. Then he goes on to play Wembley Stadium in London. There is no American equivalent of that. It’s a big deal.
Along the way several notable things happen, none of them contributing much to the charm or logic of the story, as we go on wondering what happened to all those Coke machines. A Russian man and a woman from Liverpool (note the accent) recognize that Jack is doing songs familiar to them.
Jack takes his incompetent but likable friend Rocky (Joel Fry in a career part) along with him everywhere.
And our hero’s unwillingness to close the romantic deal with Ellie causes him to be increasingly isolated. Then there’s the inexplicable visit to a lonely man’s house on the beach.
Oh, yeah. And the soundtrack favors the late Beatles stuff, especially McCartney’s vaudeville numbers like “When I’m 64” and “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da.” Good tunes, but not what I think of when I think of the Beatles.
The movie’s got a sort of “That Thing You Do” ending to it. And when it’s over the large (and older) crowd at the matinee I attended was probably wondering if they could see “Across the Universe” on streaming. You know, to wash the taste out of their mouths.
Nothing against Patel, James and Fry. What’s great about the Beatles is their music. Too obviously. I recommend dusting off your LPs instead of going to see “Yesterday.”