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Universal // PG-13 // September 24, 2019
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Oktay Ege Kozak | posted September 26, 2019 | E-mail the Author

The Movie:

A struggling musician named Jack (Himesh Patel), still barely hanging onto his passion in life thanks to the undying support and encouragement from his best friend/manager named Ellie (Lily James), gets hit by a bus and is knocked out on the night when all power mysteriously gets cut off across the globe for a minute. He wakes up in the hospital to a new reality where The Beatles has never existed, and he's the only one on the planet who remembers their songs. By introducing the world to John, Paul, George, and sometimes Ringo's genius, he becomes an overnight sensation as the greatest songwriter of all time.

Thus is Yesterday's brilliant high-concept comedy/musical premise. Yet we all know that even the best ideas can fizzle out if not supported by a solid story structure, credible character arcs, and an intriguing examination of the themes it gives birth to. Without much thought beyond the premise, the above synopsis could work as a short story or an SNL video skit, but would probably become episodic and dull by the time we reach the second act of a feature as Jack's career takes off. Even though the concept is Yesterday's main selling point, writer Richard Curtis and director Danny Boyle use it mainly as a springboard to not only create one of the most engaging romantic comedies of recent years, but also a heartwarming exploration of its many themes:

It's a profound visual testament to how not only The Beatles, but great art in general enriches the human soul and makes us grateful to be alive. The second best scene in Yesterday (The first a third act reveal I won't spoil here, suffice to say it had me and many others in the screening bawling their eyes out- comes when Jack randomly starts playing the title song, unaware that it's being let out into this particular universe for the first time. Boyle focuses at length on close-ups of Jack's friends, who were expecting another pleasing but expected tune from him, only to gradually be captivated by one of the most beautiful songs of the 20th Century. Whatever distractions or worries they had at the moment immediately dissipates from their faces, until the music becomes the only thing that matters for them in that moment. Boyle then cuts to long shots of the beautiful English countryside while Jack sings, as the sequence somehow manages to make us feel as if we're also listening to a song we've all heard a million times prior for the first time in our lives. Yesterday occasionally remembers to take a breather from the narrative flow in order to re-instill this feeling in us. In our current climate, such positive emotional connections are vital.

It's a smart and intricate dissection of whether or not great art that's universally recognized as such would be considered so if it came out at a different time and from a different place. We all understandably assume that the implementation of The Beatles' greatest work into a virgin universe would result in widespread acceptance. While some of that is the case in the form of Jack's sudden stardom, Curtis and Boyle have a lot of fun with how the modern world would react to the songs and would tweak them to fit the contemporary image. The film is chock full of astute humor about, say, who the hell Sergeant Pepper is or how "Hey Dude" makes more sense than "Hey Jude". Thankfully the "I used to beat my girlfriend" lyric from "Getting Better" isn't mentioned.

Many stories about an artist's sudden rise to stardom explores the inner conflict of personal life vs. professional, and the tragedy of how some attachments to the previous, non-famous existence has to be excised in favor of fame and fortune. Curtis doesn't rewrite the rules of this concept, but wraps it around his trademark rom-com formula that mixes old Hollywood romance with caustic British wit and chummy banter. In true genre fashion, Jack and Ellie have had feelings for one another for a decade, but never acted up on them until Jack gets snatched away to tour the globe, leaving him to decide whether or not he should pursue his career or choose Ellie. The plot points are expected, but Curtis' sharp dialogue and the palpable chemistry between Patel and James should satisfy those looking for that Notting Hill or Love Actually feeling.

The premise doesn't just stop with The Beatles, but is used as much-appreciated sprinkling of absurdist humor, as other random pop-culture elements turn out to have been erased from the world, from Coke to cigarettes. Whether or not the disappearance of Oasis is due to the global blackout or because the band couldn't exist without having The Beatles to rip off of is hilariously left up to the audience. This is one of those running gags that makes rewatches so rewarding, since audiences will probably keep picking up throwaway gags and background images that further inform us on what else changed in this universe.

The Blu-ray:


Instead of his usual grainy, stylized, and contrast-filled cinematography, Boyle adopts a bright and fun rom-com look that resembles more of a Richard Curtis-directed film than a Boyle joint. This approach works perfectly for Yesterday's tone, and the 1080p transfer carries it with utmost clarity, supported by the autumnal British color palette.


The Dolby Atmos 7.1 track has one clear purpose: To rock all of your channels during the wonderful and vibrant performances of some of The Beatles' signature tunes. The key here is the center channel, which transfers Patel's beautiful voice with impressive range. Otherwise, there's a nice dynamic between dialogue and sound effects, as much as expected from a rom-com.


Alternate Ending: There isn't much that's different here, other than the character reversal of a great joke that caps the theatrical cut.

Deleted Scenes: A whopping 25 minutes of excised material. It's easy to see why they were taken out, but there's a lot of fun stuff here.

Live at Abbey Road Studios: This is a major treat. Patel performs three Beatles songs at the legendary studios.

Alternate Opening: Not much different here, apart from some added lines and a more languid pace.

Gag Reel: This is hilarious, shows how much fun the production was.

A Talented Duo: A pretty standard 3-minute EPK.

Playing For Real: A five-minute featurette about Patel's talent, and how him playing the songs for real helped the credibility of the premise.

Soulmates: A quick EPK about the chemistry between Patel and James.

From Stadium to Screen: A quick featurette about Ed Sheeran's acting as himself in the film.

Agent of Comedy: A quick tribute to Kate McKinnon's comedic talents.

A Conversation with Richard and Ed: For 3 minutes, Ed Sheeran and Richard Curtis talk about their love for Suffolk.

Commentary with Danny Boyle and Richard Curtis: This is a very loose and conversational commentary that goes over the duo's love for the material and the cast.

Final Thoughts:

Curtis and Boyle's distinct sensibilities mesh perfectly together. While Curtis' attention to character keeps us emotionally engaged, Boyle's manic editing and quirky visual choices, such as names of locations floating around the frame, propels the story forward like a well-oiled narrative machine. With her effortless charisma and magnetism, Lily James proves herself to be a formidable rom-com star. Himesh Patel certainly fits Curtis' archetype of melancholic and self-deprecating male protagonists, but also leaves a strong impression with his beautiful singing voice and stage presence. Yesterday is a masterwork that somehow lets us relive the grandiosity of The Beatles as if it's our first time. A fab accomplishment indeed.

Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and

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