While summers are usually filled with big budget blockbusters, independent films often go unnoticed and forgotten. Yet, this summer’s sleeper hit “Yesterday” has managed to stick with me, months after its release. As a huge Beatles fan and a South Asian American seeing positive representation on screen, I may have been biased to like this film. Regardless, “Yesterday” proves to be a charming romantic comedy that brought the joy of The Beatles tunes to the big screen in a way that can really strike a chord with audiences.
Jack, a former teacher who’s struggling to keep his singing career alive, is a real Nowhere Man. Ambitious but not knowing where his failing career will lead, he decides to quit his dream of making music much to the disappointment of his best friend, fellow teacher and manager Ellie.
The average romantic comedy would have stopped here, coming up with a convoluted way to make these two “Come Together,” but “Yesterday” enhances this premise in the best way possible. Biking home after a “Hard Day’s Night,” Jack is hit by a bus when all the lights in the world go out momentarily, smashing his guitar, his bike and his face.
As Jack is nursed back to health, Ellie gives him a replacement guitar. Proceeding to play “Yesterday,” he baffles his friends with this newfound song and talent, leading Jack to the revelation that he has woken up to a world where the Beatles never existed. Being the only man in the world who knows, arguably, the best songs ever written, Jack has a new dilemma: can he revamp his music making career by singing the Beatles’ songs as his own?
This premise gives plenty of room to explore Jack’s choice in a light-hearted way, while showcasing his singing talent on some of the best Beatles tunes. Backed by Ellie, played by the lovely Lily James, Himesh Patel’s Jack finally hits it big with his musical career. Taking his recluse friend Rocky, he explores the music industry, even coming face-to-face with Ed Sheeran and his repulsive yet hilarious manager Deborah played by Kate McKinnon.
Much of this works for comedic effect, from Deborah’s frankness and Rocky’s drug fueled comments, to Jack trying desperately to remember the lyrics to his favorite songs, making Yesterday a delight to watch.
Making Jack a character who just happens to be South Asian was also a nice touch. South Asian males are always the butt of the joke, and played off as stereotyped, unattractive, accented side characters (see Pahood in Paul Blart, Raj in Big Bang Theory, Dopinder in Deadpool, Baljeet in Phineas and Ferb). And so, seeing a man of Gujurati descent be viewed as nothing more than a regular British man was a welcome change in cinema.
At its core, the movie is a romantic movie, and is bolstered by the chemistry between Ellie and Jack. Though the story of best friends never expressing their feelings for one another until the end may sound clichéd, it’s the way in which the music is used that makes “Yesterday” unique. Jack and Ellie’s longing for one another gives Jack’s renditions of The Beatles songs a new spin, and a new meaning. Simple, sweet and wholesome, “Yesterday” is the summer movie that I never knew I needed “In My Life.”