By Stacy Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
Hey, I love love as much as any other person who has a heart, but you know what I don’t love? Love getting crammed down my throat when I could be enjoying loads more covers of Beatles music sung by dreamy newcomer Himesh Patel.
Patel stars as Jack Malik in “Yesterday,” a film directed by Danny Boyle (“Trainspotting,” “Slumdog Millionaire”), about a struggling musician who wakes up one day in a world where the Beatles never existed. He starts ripping off what he remembers of the Beatles’ discography—in a harmless and cute comedic way, not an overtly sinister copyright-infringement, intellectual theft kind of way.
Malik becomes a worldwide superstar because duh he does, and then has to grapple with excessive fame, his own lying ass, and also the protracted will-they-won’t-they love between himself and his best friend/former manager, Ellie (Lily James).
(Reportedly, the movie-makers of “Yesterday” paid $10 million to get the rights for Beatles’ song to get featured in the movie. And that was money well spent!)
There was a couple on a date sitting next to me in the theater as I watched this.
They were whispering to each other about an hour and a half into the movie. And I was like, trying not to eavesdrop because that’s rude. But then soon after their quick discussion, they both got up and left the theater, which made me realize they were negotiating when it’s okay to walk away from $40 worth of movie tickets and concessions to go home because the movie just became too much.
“Yesterday” starts off really promising. The premise is just inherently interesting—musician wakes up in a world without the Beatles, starts peddling their music as his own, becomes rich and famous, undergoes downward spiral over the guilt maybe. That, in and of itself, would’ve carried the entire movie.
But the filmmakers shoved in an entire unrequited love story that was needlessly long and needlessly created conflict where we didn’t need conflict. I didn’t get why Ellie didn’t say anything to Jack about her feelings until it became wildly inconvenient to. I didn’t get why Jack looked like an idiot fish out of water when his best friend said nice things to him, acting like he’s never received a compliment before in his entire life. I don’t get why they were acting like they came from two entirely different worlds and that the distance between the two cannot ever be bridged.
Like, freaking move to Los Angeles, Ellie. Be a math teacher to Latino kids instead of the lily white kids in Suffolk! Like, you can teach algebra in any English-speaking country so I don’t understand all of the forlorn looks you are casting at Jack in airports!
Toward the end of this movie, I was watching it like it was a horror movie. I was squirming in my seat and alternating between covering my ears and covering my eyes and internally screaming—because I hate watching embarrassing, overly sentimental public declarations play out. There was a fair bit of that toward the end.
Okay, beyond the dumb love story, here are highlights.
Patel is great. He is charismatic and funny and also just sweet. He imbues the Jack Malik character with charm, which is super necessary because Malik is a freaking plagiarist! But Patel is so good that we, the audience, kind of constantly forgive him for this.
Weirdly though, the other characters in the movie keep referring to Malik as some sort of plain Jane uggo (like, they insult the way he looks). At first, my hackles were raised because I thought it was racial.
But no, it was actually just the characters in the movie calling him gross to look at in a color-blind kind of way.
It’s pretty ludicrous. I hate it when they do that in movies. I mean, Look at him.
He is clearly not hideous. He looks like he could legit be a working musician instead of what he actually is, which is a working Hollywood actor.
And even though I wish they’d dial down on their love, Patel and James have really good chemistry. I bought that they had a past and context and genuine affection for each other.
Sanjeev Bhaskar and Meera Syal play Malik’s parents, and they are a riot. They also have super clear English accents, so they have got to be like, at least second gen, making their son at least third gen. They weren’t the stereotypical immigrant parents that tried to crush their artsy kid’s dream. That was a nice breath of fresh air.
The entire supporting cast is charming and funny. They made this movie feel warm and comfortable. Lots of white people though—but minor quibble, I guess.
Ed Sheeran is in this. He gets like, third billing. He like, talks a lot in this movie.
And after watching his guest appearance on freaking “Game of Thrones,” just the thought of Ed Sheeran doing freaking anything besides being a professional musician just incites rage from deep inside of my soul.
But he was actually alright in this. That was a nice surprise.
I can’t wait to watch this movie again in 20 years and go, “WHO THE HECK WAS ED SHEERAN?” along with the rest of the world though.
(Come at me. I don’t care.)
“Yesterday” is out in theaters all over town. Check local listings for show times.
Stacy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.