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There are certain concepts or ideas for stories that sound very attractive when you think about them, but which are then very difficult to transform into stories that are sustained throughout a film. Many of those “strong concepts” belong to the category of what if or “what would happen if…?“ Ideas of that kind lend themselves to the playful play between friends and they are often suitable for television sketches or short films. The difficulty is that to sustain almost two hours of film, a screenwriter must create a world, characters and interesting situations around it.
That is the serious problem of Yesterday and that is why it gives the sensation that the ingenious film based on the idea ends exactly at 45 minutes, in two consecutive scenes that terminate it and that start another thousand times less interesting and seen millions of times.
The premise, which you probably already know, is simple and typical of the fable we will see. Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a singer-songwriter, and a repositor in a supermarket, who has been trying for some success without much luck and whose best song is an amorphous thing called "The Summer Song". His childhood friend and manager, Ellie (Lily James), insists that he has the talent and gets him a spot at a festival. Jack throws the towel just there. Enough for him. She insists but there is no case.
One night there is a furious global power outage that lasts only a few seconds, but long enough for Jack's bicycle to be hit by a bus and the man ends up unconscious in a hospital. When he wakes up he realizes that he is missing two teeth and that people respond strangely to certain things. Ask for a Coke and nobody knows what he is talking about, among other curiosities.
With the days he realizes another strangeness: nobody knows the songs of the Beatles, nor the Beatles. He Googles it and nothing, sings "Yesterday" and people look surprised that he was able to compose something so beautiful. It is there that Jack realizes that there is a possible business going around and that he can give it a few benefits.
Yesterday is, on the one hand, the story of peculiarity, in the context of a love story and complicated relationships with the record industry. The best of the film is its beginning, when the surprise of the concept gives birth to some very funny scenes (like when he tries to sing “Let it Be” to his parents as his new song and they are totally distracted), but Richard Curtis, the veteran scriptwriter of Nothing Hill and Love Actually cannot help but leave the matter aside to focus on a rather banal and forced history of love complications between Jack and Ellie that has no reason to be in dramatic terms and that relies on non-existent chemistry.
Jack could be singing his own songs and the movie wouldn't change much. Remember the scene where Jack returns from a tour and says goodbye to Ellie and her family members to go to Los Angeles. There the movie is almost over and another type “do you prefer fame or me?” It begins, which is not only retrograde in contemporary terms but is not attractive at all.
Yesterday will be a success for its side of The Beatles nostalgia and its character of crowdpleaser, but in fact we think that a film that went unnoticed in these lands as Blinded By The Light, supported by the music of Bruce Springsteen, solves a lot better the increasingly common combination of finding cinematic stories that function as nostalgic tunes of a generation of forty (or more) nostalgic for the music of their teenage years.