It takes a willingness to stretch your imagination to roll with the fantasy plot of “Yesterday,” directed by Danny Boyle. You Iare asked to believe that there is a world in which nobody has ever heard of the Beatles. The one exception is Jack Malik, portrayed by Himesh Patel, who fraudulently appropriates the Beatles hits as his own and becomes famous singing these iconic numbers newly recognized as great and presumably composed by Malik.
In the screenplay by Richard Curtis, based on a story by Jack Barth, Malik is at first an unsuccessful singer-guitarist who has a traffic accident and wakes up in this new world. But, as directed by Boyle and as scripted, apart from the Beatles as non-existent, everything else is the same. Malik has the same friends, same parents, same gal on whom he is sweet. But when he inquires about the Beatles on his computer, he gets insects.
The upside of the film is that in Malik’s duplicitous rise to fame we get to hear so many Beatle songs. At points Boyle makes the film visually lavish. The downside includes the long-time unrequited romantic feelings between Malik and his early manager, Ellie Appleton, played cutely by Lily James. I felt like shouting “Hop into bed already,” as the unrealistically chaste relationship goes on and on until finally, or course, all gets resolved. The downside also includes a plot cliché—Malik’s confession of wrongdoing before an entire crowd.
The film does have some clever touches, including the appearance of singer-composer-star Ed Sheeran as himself. But “Yesterday” is basically such a far-fetched fantasy that it is easy to become skeptical and bored. Patel, of Indian descent, has his appeal, and James has her appeal too, but the extenuated failure of Ellie and Jack to become a couple through most of the film is irritating. I suppose one can view “Yesterday” as a back-handed salute to the Beatles. But it takes a lot of willingness to go with the flow of the absurd concept. A Universal Pictures release. Reviewed June 28, 2019.