Rated PG-13, 117 minutes
"Yesterday" is a charming, slightly imperfect ode to one of the most prolific, and some say, the best rock bands around, The Beatles. Coming off musical bio hits "Bohemian Rapsody" (Queen) and "Rocketman" (Elton John), "Yesterday" is not a bio pic but strictly a pure and thoroughly enjoyable fantasy that takes more of its cues from the recent John bio.
Jack Malik (Himesh Patel of BBC's "East Enders") is a struggling singer-songwriter in an English seaside town whose dreams of fame are rapidly fading, despite the fierce devotion and support of his childhood best friend, Ellie ("Downton Abbey's" lovely Lilly James). After a freak bus accident during a mysterious global blackout, Jack wakes up to discover that The Beatles have never existed. Performing songs by the greatest band in history to a world that has never heard them, Jack becomes on overnight sensation with a little help from his agent.
You're likely to fall in love with the Beatles all over again in the winning, occasionally uneven "Yesterday" from Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire" and "127 Hours") and writer Richard Curtis, writer of such hits as "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "About a Boy." After a shaky start and once it starts rolling in the Beatles hits, it becomes a satisfying affair.
Unsurprisingly, the best part of "Yesterday" would be all the Beatles hits it manages to pack in less than two hours, and if you're a toe tapper or even a singer or hummer, you'll likely be cheering the story along. Patel grounds the film well, and he manages to strike chords of wonder and merriment along the way, not to mention he has a terrific voice on all 18 of those Beatles covers. The film sometimes suffers from a lack of identity, and the romantic comedy aspects don't work as well as the fantasy.
Speaking of which, in this world, nearly everyone is oblivious to the Beatles songs, and Curtis has some fun infusing some other things that disappear after the mysterious blackout, such as cigarettes, Coca-Cola and Harry Potter. It also helps that it features a fun supporting cast, including Ed Sheeran, playing a version of himself that suggests "Hey, Dude" instead of "Hey, Jude" and the always energetic and funny "Saturday Night Live" veteran Kate McKinnon as Jack's very ambitious manager.
The ending is endearingly predictable and even anticlimactic, but at least we get a few more upbeat Beatles covers from Patel and company. "Yesterday" is a winning, occasionally flawed rock comedy whose best asset is its soundtrack.