Arts & Leisure

‘Yesterday’: easy day’s night at the movies

HIMESH PATEL as Jack Malik in “Yesterday.”

By Jim Tortolano

Most what-ifs that make their way into books and movies concern wars and assassinations. But what if the most influential rock band in history just … disappeared? Never was?

What you’d get is something very close to “Yesterday,” a witty and fun film that marries the concept of alternate history – a la “The Man in the High Castle” – with sweet romantic comedy. It’s not high art but it’s a good movie which will have you tapping your feet and maybe even singing along.

  Jack Malik (played by Himesh Patel) is a mediocre singer-songwriter in England in the present day whose career in music is on a long, slow arc into the sunset. The only person who really believes in him is best pal/manager Ellie (Lily James).

Despairing and about to return to his job as an elementary school teacher, he is riding on his bicycle one night when electricity all over the world cuts out for 12 seconds, and Jack is hit by a bus.

When the lights come back on and Jack wakes up in the hospital there are some interesting changes in the world. There’s no Coca Cola, no cigarettes and no … Beatles. No one but Jack, it seems, remembers the Fab Four. Once he digests this startling state of affairs, Jack starts writing down – as best as he can remember – Beatles tunes, ranging from “Yesterday” to “Eleanor Rigby.”

He’s discovered by a talent scout and is soon on his way to stardom. Along the way he gets some tone-deaf suggestions from his circle. How about “Hey, Dude” instead of “Hey, Jude”? One relative introduces one of his songs as “Leave It Be.”

Everything really takes off for Jack, career-wise, when a sharky American record producer played by Kate McKinnon of “SNL” fame offers him the deal of the lifetime, one that involves a world of compromise, dishonesty and the like.

No further spoilers here. This is a very enjoyable comedy with great music and memorable performances by the leads. The charming script is by Richard Curtis and the direction by Danny Boyle. If you can have some fun with the impossible premise, you can have a lot of fun with “Yesterday.”

Post-script. Even harder to believe than the Beatles disappearance is how long it takes a certain character to discover that another character is his solid-gold, surefire true companion. Ah, but that’s another song by another artist.

“Yesterday” is rated PG-13 for some suggestive language and content.

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