It is commonly agreed upon that the Beatles are one of music’s most popular groups of all time. The talented foursome of George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr collectively created some of the most recognizable, celebrated and beautiful music the world has ever heard. That being said, Yesterday, the latest project from director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire) and screenwriter Richard Curtis (Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Love Actually) poses an interesting idea – what if the Beatles never existed?

Yesterday stars Himesh Patel, Lily James, Ed Sheeran and Kate McKinnon and it follows the not-so-successful musical career of singer-songwriter Jack Malik (Patel). His struggles reach a nadir when his childhood friend and manager Elie Appleton books him a major festival gig, only to play in front of some friends, an elderly couple and four very bored children. That embarrassment was the final slap in the Jack’s face and as a result he decides to quit.

But an event after his festival performance changes Jack’s world as he knows it (and his fortunes). A global blackout occurs and Jack, while riding his bicycle home, is hit by a bus. Having dodged a bullet by avoiding serious injury, Jack is welcomed home from the hospital with a new guitar from Ellie. It’s when Jack begins playing “Yesterday” that he realizes something’s amiss; Ellie and their friends don’t recognize the song. They also don’t know who the Beatles are, much to Jack’s chagrin. Believing it’s all an elaborate prank, Jack does an online search for the Beatles and discovers zero hits. It becomes obvious to Jack that he’s the only person in the world who knows of the Beatles.

Upon this realization, Jack sees an opportunity to revive his music career. He’ll pawn off their songs as his own and see where that takes him. Of course, he will surely skyrocket to stardom because the songs are amazing. But what Jack doesn’t realize is that he may have to sacrifice Ellie, his best friend and possibly the love of his life, for fame and fortune.

Yesterday is based on an original script. It is part fantasy, part drama, part rom-com and part musical. That versatility may look exhausting, but when compared with superheroes, sequels and reboots it is a refreshing change of pace. Boyle’s latest is charming, funny and romantic and a lot of that has to do with Patel and James.

This is Patel’s feature film debut but he’s been acting for years on the BBC soap opera EastEnders. He provides solid acting with the added bonus of admirable singing ability. But more appropriately, Patel sings as if the Beatles’ songs are his own. It adds emotional weight to Patel’s role as Jack and helps bring those songs’ meanings to light. Patel is as memorable as one can be in a film debut; he’s a big reason Yesterday is a winner.

Speaking of winners, James is a joy. She was lovable in 2015’s Cinderella, 2017’s Baby Driver and last year’s Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. Her Ellie represents regret and missed opportunity, themes which are in abundance in Yesterday. You can’t help but root for Ellie as she does everything she can to win Jack’s heart. With this being Yesterday’s core story, if she wasn’t likeable and the love story didn’t work everything else would fail.

Kate McKinnon’s on board as a record company exec and all of us know her Debra Hammer is comic relief. As usual, she’s a scene-stealer despite being semi-unlikeable. And then there’s Ed Sheeran, playing himself. I don’t get why he’s popular but he’s likeable enough for me to appreciate him… just a little bit. Funny note - I know so little of Sheeran that I was shocked to hear him speak with an English accent. I had no idea he’s from England.

Overall, Boyle and Curtis hit the right notes and audiences will walk away with that warm fuzzy feeling. In addition, Yesterday has a few surprises that enhance an already likeable concept. And although it’s not specifically about the Beatles, Yesterday will provide a renewed appreciation for them and their music and it should open them up to a new generation of fans.

4 stars out of 5

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