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'Yesterday': All Over Again

By Michael S. GoldbergeriBerkshires Film Critic
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Having experienced the progressive, enlightened and somewhat earth-shaking era of the 1960s, I figured we good citizens had given at the office, that we were forever vaccinated with Pepperland dust and therefore protected from the ignominious cloud currently darkening our horizons. We just can't go back to the Middle Ages. I'd look terrible in a monk habit. 
So now, like an army regiment pinned down by a scurrilous enemy, waiting for the cavalry of righteous indignation to return America to its senses, I look for signs and metaphors that this globe might soon be put back on its axis. If it comes in the form of an entertaining film like director Danny Boyle's "Yesterday," all the better.
I mean, next thing these climate change-deniers will be proffering is that the Sun travels around the Earth. And that same 30 percent will believe'em. Thus, as Jack Malik's world is torn asunder following the usual hit on the head that changes people's universes in the best of film fantasies, The Beatles songs that are an integral part of "Yesterday" had me longing for, well, yesterday. Not the time itself, mind you, but the general optimism and good will of the epoch. Nice was in.
The hook is, in this "Yesterday," which deals in fanciful what-ifs of various colors and stripes, there never was The Beatles, at least not that anyone but Jack the aspiring rock 'n' roller can recollect. Following recovery from his cataclysmic run-in with a bus at about the same time that the stars jarringly realigned, he plays a ditty by The Beatles for his pals. That's a nice song, but who the hell are The Beatles, his buds ask? Surely Jack must have written the tune and just doesn't remember. A little loopy right now, you see.
Voila — the epiphany, nay, the new reality, comes to him. Jack googles The Beatles. He gets the insects and the Volkswagen variety but no John, Paul, George and Ringo. Hmm. It'd be a pity if some of the greatest songs ever written just never were. The B section of Jack's vinyl library boasts no albums from the Fab Four. Gosh. This calls for a troubadour with a good memory who just might want to make a fortune.
Hence begins the intoxicating, guilt-filled rise of Sussex, England's, Jack Malik, soon seen by an adoring public as a songwriter extraordinaire, if not the best tune scribe ever. Superbly portrayed by Himesh Patel, who can sure sound like McCartney, Lennon or Harrison when re-creating one of their masterpieces for the ebullient masses, a part of his thesis is that great is great no matter. Flourished before the public a second time — or is it the first time? — the songs are excitedly embraced and ladies chasing him and everything.
Jack, of course, in the best film fantasy form, is you or me. Some theorists with Ph.D. after their names contend that part and parcel of that thing about having a fear of success is that we all, in varying degrees, think that we are frauds, and that we'll be found out sooner or later. Of course, you, dear reader, are probably exempt from such negativity, whereas I like to think it's what kept me from pitching for The New York Yankees. Surely it wasn't something as simple as the lack of ability.
But Jack carries on, recriminations be damned, for now. Truth is, among our greatest powers, and what doubtlessly allows us to persevere considering the circumstances, is the hypnotic magic of rationalization. Like the cavemen in "Quest for Fire" (1981) who are committed to literally keeping the flame of life burning, Jack sees himself as the emissary from a time lost — the sole repository of the poetic genius that was The Beatles.
It isn't easy. Do you think you could recall all the lyrics from The Beatles' voluminous songbook? An amusingly arduous, musical scavenger hunt follows. And so, if some riches spill Jack's way as a result of his efforts, let it be.
Sounds pretty serious, no? But that's the trick. Irony rules. Whether it's the smattering of sociopolitical barbs, jabs at the rock 'n' roll business courtesy of Kate McKinnon's money-hungry agent or the jargon-laced peek at the millennial outlook, wit abounds.
Director Boyle spins his tale in classical, romantic comedy form, replete with all the whimsy that comes of films that have been brushed by enchantment. All things seem possible. It's open season for wish fulfillment. And just to be in compliance with the general requirements of the genre, there's a heckuva good love story made possible by the perhaps undying devotion of Lilly James' Ellie Appleton. She's the girl almost next door. All told, call me a sap and a hopeless romantic, but I believe in "Yesterday."
 "Yesterday," rated PG-13, is a Universal Pictures release directed by Danny Boyle and stars Himesh Patel, Lilly James and Joel Fry. Running time: 116 minutes

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