Film Review: ‘Yesterday’: Who Wouldn’t Want to Be a Beatle? Or All of Them?

By Mark Jackson, Epoch Times
July 9, 2019 Updated: July 9, 2019

PG-13 | 1h 56min | Comedy, Fantasy, Music | 28 June 2019 (USA)

There’s a global power outage, enveloping the world in darkness, accompanied by that final, thundering chord from The Beatles song “A Day in the Life” (for which the boys from Liverpool apparently used—not one, but four—grand pianos).

Then, a guy on a bicycle named Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), who looks rather like an Indian version of Russell Brand, is hit by a bus—kapow! He wakes up in the hospital and discovers he’s missing two front teeth (later referring to himself hilariously as a “reverse rabbit”).

Jack also sounds very much like Russell Brand, except without Brand’s manic verbosity and hyperarticulation. And without his slightly insane eye-gleam. OK, that’s not the premise of the movie; it was the buildup to the premise. Here’s the premise:

Indian man with Fender Telecaster
Himesh Patel plays a man who remembers The Beatles when no one else in the world does, in “Yesterday.” (Jonathan Prime/Universal Pictures)

In the darkness, the entire world forgot The Beatles. The global Beatles file was deleted from people’s memories and from history. No “Yellow Submarine,” no “Day Tripper,” no “Eleanor Rigby.” Gone. Actually, also gone are Coca-Cola, Harry Potter, the English rock band Oasis, and cigarettes. Gone from everyone’s memory except Jack’s.

And our man Jack is a musician. Fresh out of the hospital, Jack sings The Beatles’ “Yesterday” for some friends. They think it’s one of his very own. Never heard of The Beatles. What??!!

Annnnnd the moral dilemma presents itself. Imagine the possibilities. Imagine “Imagine” played by you, for the very first time, and everybody thinks you’re a genius, and you never have to play bar mitzvahs or kiddie birthday parties again.

And then Kate McKinnon ( of “Saturday Night Live”), as a particularly charming/malevolent music exec, rolls out the red carpet and entices you to drink the poisonous potion of fame and money. And suddenly you, er, Jack, is off on a magical mystery tour of a Beatles-plagiarizing charade.

Would you do it? If you were a crack musician with a good memory for Lennon-McCartney lyrics? Yeah, you would.

two men in talkshow setting
James Corden (L), as a talk show host, interviewing a man, played by Himesh Patel, who remembers The Beatles when no one else in the world does, in “Yesterday.” (Jonathan Prime/Universal Pictures)

Hey Jude, er, Ed

Who should get wind of the new talent in town but current pop phenom Ed Sheeran, who drops by as himself, and finds himself completely bewildered by Jack’s staggering amount of talent.

Ed-as-himself (in a remarkable, self-deprecating turn, wherein he refers to himself as a “ginger geezer”) throws down a songwriting gauntlet at an after-party for one of Jack’s concerts: Which one of them can write the best song in 10 minutes?

Ed Sheeran
Ed Sheeran plays himself, in a music producer capacity, to a man who secretly plagiarizes The Beatles, in “Yesterday.” (Jonathan Prime/Universal Pictures)

Sheeran breezily speed-composes one of his impressive, makes-it-look-so-easy earworms, only to be completely blown out of the water by Jack’s “original” “The Long and Winding Road.” Ed bows down, ceding defeat by quipping hilariously something like, Yup, you’re Mozart and I’m Salieri.

Stand and Deliver!

Jack’s now got to deliver the entire catalog of Beatles hits, which he does via sticky notes covering his wall, and a running gag of trying to remember the lyrics to “Eleanor Rigby.”

Himesh Patel in blue suit
Himesh Patel plays a man who plagiarizes The Beatles, in “Yesterday.” (Jonathan Prime/Universal Pictures)

Himesh Patel also has to deliver as a credible interpreter of the greatest classic rock band ever, in his movie-star debut. He absolutely pulls it off. He’s got good timing, in both the musical and comedic senses. Quite an engaging voice, too.

man looking at big photo of himself
Himesh Patel plays a man who remembers The Beatles when no one else in the world can, in “Yesterday.” (Jonathan Prime/Universal Pictures)

Lily James as Ellie (who ranks in the top three most adorable actresses in the world, in my book, alongside Amy Adams and Emily Blunt) believes in her Jack, and also in Jack-and-Ellie, although Jack excruciatingly takes all of the movie to even comprehend the concept of Jack-and-Ellie.

man and woman in hotel lobby
Himesh Patel plays a man who plagiarizes The Beatles, and Lily James plays his wannabe girlfriend, in “Yesterday.” (Jonathan Prime/Universal Pictures)

Speaking of waking up to what the simpler things and real gifts of life are, and getting back to one’s core values. Jack gets a piece of paper with an address on it from an older couple who happen to be the last two people in the world, besides himself, who also remember The Beatles.

Jack goes to that address. Well, well, if it isn’t John Lennon living in a beach house. Jack gets some elder wisdom handed to him via an afternoon tea with that most controversial of Beatles.

And speaking of John, while The Beatles are arguably the most beloved rock band of all time, and while there’s debate that Lennon’s personal ideology, as encapsulated in the lyrics of “Imagine,” describes the essence of the downfall of Western society via the liberalism-progressivism-socialism-communism train, that’s ridiculously beyond the scope of a movie review about a nostalgic walk down Penny Lane.

Himesh Patel walks across Abbey Road
Himesh Patel plays a man who plagiarizes The Beatles, in “Yesterday.” (Universal Pictures)

And in the End …

Hollywood casting directors, please drum up a movie where Himesh Patel plays the Indian half brother of Russell Brand. And also the real brother of Ravi Patel, of “Meet the Patels.”

Indian actor
Actor Ravi Patel. (

No wait—where Himesh plays the real brother of Ravi Patel and also Dev Patel.

Indian actor
Actor Dev Patel. (Francois Nel/Getty Images for Chivas Regal)

See, in “Meet the Patels,” Ravi explained how all the Patels of the world swear they’re related, and so that would be a very fun and funny movie, since these three are all absolutely hilarious.

poster of "Yesterday"
Himesh Patel plays a man who plagiarizes The Beatles, and Lily James plays his wannabe girlfriend, in “Yesterday.” (Universal Pictures)

Director: Danny Boyle
Starring: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Ed Sheeran, James Corden, Kate McKinnon
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes
Release Date: June 28
Rated: 3 stars out of 5

Follow Mark on Twitter: @FilmCriticEpoch