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I walked into the wrong movie today.
I had meant to see the new “Men in Black” movie, sat through the commercials and previews and the movie began. Clever, I thought, this is an interesting way to start this movie. Then the title came up – “Yesterday” – and I realized my mistake.
Glancing at my watch, I realize it is five minutes too late to jump next door and see the actual beginning of “Men in Black: International.” If there is anything I hate, it’s getting to a movie late, beginnings are the most important part. So, I settle back in my disappointment to see what this movie is about.
At first “Yesterday” seems like a run-of-the-mill music star biopic with street musician Jack Malik (played by Himesh Patel) busking on a waterside, then playing at a festival where he is in a tent with four children giggling with each other. The movie takes on a bit of a romantic comedy feel with Malik’s childhood best friend Ellie (played by Lily James) serving as his manager, roadie and number one supporter. So far, this is a movie I would rather wait to see on Netflix.
Then, things get weird. As a despondent failed musician, Malik is bicycling home and there is a power outage for 12 seconds – over the entire world.
In the dark, a bus collides with Malik and his bicycle. He is a bit damaged in the accident, losing some teeth, his guitar and bending up his bicycle. When he gets out of the hospital, he discovers the world is just a little bit different. There is only Pepsi, no Coke; no such thing as cigarettes; and – NO Beatles music.
So, what is a failed singer/songwriter to do? Make the Beatles songs his own of course.
“Yesterday” is a strange movie in which one small act of fantasy changes the world completely and one mediocre songwriter becomes a sensation. At its base it is a fairly predictable romantic comedy, but … there are unexpected twists and gentle surprises along the way. And, of course, Beatles tunes enough to make you sing along and laugh when they go wrong.
Popular pop star Ed Sheeran plays himself in this movie, sharing quite a lot of screen time with Malek and bringing some of his own best musical work to the film, joining the recognizable Beatles tunes. Sheeran is self-deprecating, which comes off perfectly for the context.
Underneath it all, this movie addresses the issues of glitz and money vs happiness as does any rom-com, but also other subtler themes that are not so easy to pick out in this “what if …” context. The actual brilliance of Beatles songs stands out here, clearly loved and revered by the story makers. There are some clever plays on words in the songs reflected in life, but this is not overdone.
In the end (not at the end) I had tears in my eyes at several points during the film and somehow, I don’t think “Men in Black: International” would have touched me like “Yesterday.” The lesson for today is sometimes it pays to take the road less traveled, or the theater next door.
Elva K. Österreich may be reached at email@example.com.