Jack Malik is a struggling musician, trying to scratch out a living.
Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a twenty-something singer/songwriter who is struggling to survive as a musician. He was an elementary school teacher at one time, like his long time manager and most faithful supporter (Lily James) since they were in grade school together. She has encouraged him to concentrate on his musical career, but despite his musical skills, his music is just not resonating with the people in his UK hometown of Suffolk. Jack is reduced to playing in coffee houses, on the streets at malls, or nearly empty tents at music festivals with only Ellie and a quartet of friends in attendance. Jack still lives at home with his parents who continually push him to do something else, and like most everyone else are indifferent to his music. After enduring another sparsely attended performance at a festival, Jack decides that he needs to move on from life as a music performer, even though Ellie continues to exhort him to stick with it.
Jack hooks up again with his friend Rocky, who becomes his road manager.
Jack’s life is suddenly changed when there is a twelve second worldwide power blackout while he is riding his bicycle home. He is hit by a bus in the darkness and thrown off his bike and onto the street unconscious. When Jack awakes, he finds himself in the hospital with serious injuries and missing two front teeth. One of his first visitors is Ellie as would be expected. What is unexpected is that she had no idea of the reference when Jack teases her about caring for him with the lyrics of the Beatles song “When I’m 64”. Jack can’t believe that she wouldn’t know that, and after he is out of the hospital, he hurries to a computer, and discovers that there is no trace anywhere of the Beatles, its four members, or any of their songs. Although everything else in his world seems normal, somehow he finds himself in an altered reality with no Beatles, no Coca-Cola, or even Harry Potter. Because he loves the music of the Beatles, Jack makes it his quest in life to remember and write down all of their hundreds of songs. Soon the walls of his room are covered with Post-it notes representing the songs he has remembered and been able to transcribe. One of his concerns is that he won’t be able to remember songs with tricky lyrics like “Eleanor Rigby” correctly. With all of these great songs in hand, Jack decides to continue his music career.
Jack and his long time manager, Ellie Appleton leaving after a performance.
Because no one else knows anything about the Beatles or remembers any of their songs, Jack starts adding them to his act, presenting them as his own work. He plays “Yesterday” for his friends and we see their transfixed faces as they hear this classic for the first time. But Jack is not the Beatles, and even though he has great tunes to sing and play, people aren’t noticing. A young producer named Gavin (Alexander Arnold) does, however, and soon Jack has a CD full of great songs that starts to build up a local buzz. Ed Sheeran (as himself) happens to catch one of these shows, and recognizing the quality of the music, asks Jack to join him on his current tour to replace an opening act that dropped out. In large concert venues, Jack quickly becomes a sensation, rocking out the house in Russia by performing “Back in the U.S.S.R.”, and catching the attention of a corporate recording executive Debra Hammer (Kate McKinnon). Hammer wants to take over Jack’s career and mold him into the perfect corporate rock star. Jack agrees at first but has issues with what she and the record label want to do. This makes for some hilarious scenes where we see how a corporate marketing team would make over classic Beatles albums. But even more disturbing is Jack’s separation from Ellie, his family and friends, other than his road manager Rocky (Joel Fry). That separation makes Jack realize that he has never expressed his love for her during all of those years where it was just the two of them. Solving this dilemma and Jack’s guilt over taking all the credit for someone else’s work makes up the balance of the film.
Jack’s career begins to take off after recording his first CD.
There was some controversy over this film when it was announced and released. Some people thought that it was a sacrilege to mess with the Beatles and their legacy, while others believed Yesterday to be a tribute film and a satire on the pop music recording industry. This reviewer (as did Paul McCartney in an interview with Stephen Colbert) would go with the second viewpoint, especially with the roasting of the corporate world in scenes where they try to make the Beatles music and album titles more commercial. There is a scene where Jack has to go back to Liverpool to visit and experience some of the places when John Lennon and Paul McCartney got inspiration for some of their songs that points out Jack’s moral dilemma about presenting their music as his own creation. He wants to be true to the spirit and ethos of the Beatles while living in a modern society that has no idea about what that is or what influences the Beatles had on modern culture, especially in the years after they ended their collaboration. This is a weakness in the story line, because one has to wonder how different today’s world of music would be without their influence. An attempt to look into that could very well change many of the plot points. Despite all of the emphasis on the music of the Beatles and Jack’s morality in using their music for his personal gain, gradually Yesterday emerges as a romance that deals with the relationship between Ellie and Jack: Ellie very much in love with Jack, but from afar due to their professional relationship, and Jack taking her for granted and not noticing her attraction to him until they are separated. With this story line, the film is on much more familiar ground, although a ground that already has been well traveled.
Jack performing on a local television show.
Jack is flung through the air after being hit by the bus.
Himesh Patel in his role as Jack Malik wears black high top chucks throughout much of the film, the perfect footwear choice for a struggling rock musician. He also sports optical and natural white high tops in a couple of the scenes. There aren’t a lot of close ups. The best scene is when he has the accident with the bus during the worldwide blackout. Although it is dark, you see Jack flying through the air after being hit, and then lying unconscious on the ground. Even in the dark, his chucks stick out in the cinematography.
Jack lying unconscious on the street.
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