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Film / Yesterday (2019)

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"Sometimes it feels like someone else has written all the songs."
Jack: Do you genuinely not know who The Beatles are?
Ellie: Genuinely.
Jack: Then I’m in a really, really, really complicated situation.

Yesterday is a musical comedy directed by Danny Boyle and written by Richard Curtis, the film marks the feature debut of EastEnders star Himesh Patel as Jack, joined by Lily James as his childhood friend Ellie, Joel Fry as his friend/roadie Rocky, and Kate McKinnon as his ruthless manager Debra.

Jack Malik has wanted to be a musician his entire life. But after years of never getting anywhere, he finally gives up, only to be hit by a bus during a mysterious worldwide power failure. Upon waking up, everything seems the same, but then he plays "Yesterday" for his friends and family... and they all assume he wrote it! Somehow, Jack has landed in a world where The Beatles never existed, enabling him to truly make a name for himself as he passes off one of the greatest music catalogs of all time as his own one by one.

Previews: Trailer.

Yesterday contains examples of:

  • 30-Second Blackout: A 12-second blackout spurs the plot of the flim, as it causes the world to forget The Beatles, as well as several other parts of pop culture.
  • Abbey Road Crossing: The poster depicts Jack recreating this, albeit alone instead of with a band. International versions have Ellie with him.
  • Acquired Situational Narcissism: Discussed and parodied with Jack. In a deleted scene, Ellie says that Jack's music has gotten better, but his personality has gotten worse over time. This is, of course, not the case. Jack is just trying to convince people that the music of The Beatles is truly great in itself.
  • Alternate History: Somehow a worldwide blackout sends Jack into a world that's mostly the same except for a lack of the Beatles. While that is the main story, other differences are discovered throughout the story including Coca-Cola, the band Oasis, cigarettes, and Harry Potter, with a reference to a Thursday Night Live instead of Saturday Night Live. But the biggest change is that since John Lennon never became famous, he wasn't shot in 1980 and remains alive, well and very happy in the present.
  • Anti Climax Cut: As Jack is about to go out onto the roof of the Pier Hotel for his big concert, Rocky stops him and gives a heartfelt speech about how being Jack's road manager has given meaning to his life, then opens the door... onto a fire escape, because Rocky screwed up and led them to the wrong door.
  • As Himself: Ed Sheeran in a main role. James Corden also briefly appears, although his interview with Jack turns out to be an Imagine Spot.
  • Babies Ever After: The ending reveals that Jack and Ellie had a few kids.
  • Basement Dweller: Jack is still living with his parents at the start of the film. Ellie by contrast lives in her own place.
  • Being Good Sucks: Jack could’ve gotten away with claiming he was the writer of all the Beatle’s songs and made a fortune off of it with nobody being the wiser. Even if there were a few more people in the world who remembered the songs what were they going to say? That the songs were all written fifty years ago by guys in an alternate universe? But his conscience gets the better of him and he puts all the songs online for free.
    • The point is that Jack realises that the life of a rock star isn’t for him after all.
  • Brutal Honesty: Debra never pulls punches when she talks. It's unclear if she even knows the concept.
  • Bumbling Sidekick: Rocky is Jack's loyal and usually well-meaning roadie who Jack only really tolerates. Although, over the course of the film they do genuinely seem to become better friends as Rocky is the only constant link Jack has to his life before fame took over.
  • Caper Rationalization: Jack is plagiarizing the material of the Beatles, but, as far as he knows, they're nonexistent in this world.
  • Celebrity Is Overrated: Jack learns very quickly that leaping into the rock star lifestyle will forever keep him and Ellie from being together. He also gets mobbed by fans, all while dealing with his own insecurities about the origins of his work.
  • Celebrity Paradox: In the alternate reality, Saturday Night Live is called Thursday Night Live and it is unclear if Kate McKinnon (Debra) is still a cast member.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Jack and Ellie have been friends since they were seven, and develop feelings for each other as adults.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Debra makes no pretense about how her company will be taking most of Jack's money when he's signed to them.
  • The Cover Changes the Meaning: Played with as Jack can't actually recreate their songs entirely from memory, and so ends up making a number of small changes in chord, tempo and lyrics (he even visits Liverpool, a place he had never been before, to try and jump start his memory because many of their songs were based on local landmarks). This becomes most notable when he performs "Help!" as he is having an emotional breakdown on stage, while the original song is more playful and lighthearted.
  • Easily Forgiven: A little downplayed. After his performance on Wembley Stadium, Jack finally confesses to having plagiarized the music. At first, the audience is very disappointed, but Jack assured that he's not in it for money and fame anymore by admitting his love for Ellie and getting Rocky to upload the songs for free on the Internet as compensation for his previous acts. With this information revealed, the audience applauded Jack for his efforts of making it up. Sure, it cost Jack his chance of getting a record release (as Debra is now angry at him for this), but it did gave him a second chance to start afresh.
  • Eiffel Tower Effect: The montage of the rolling power outage features, among several other monuments, the Westminster Palace in London and Moscow's Red Square (specifically, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, complete with a three-man FSO Guard of Honor who pause until the interruption ends).
  • Executive Meddling: In-Universe, Ed Sheeran suggests that they change "Hey Jude" into "Hey Dude" because they don't understand the original context, and Jack barely understands it himself enough to defend it. His efforts to get his album named after Beatles albums like Abbey Road are also shot down, instead being told they'll go with "One Man Only".
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: After the accident, Jack loses his beard in the hospital and keeps it that way even in the Distant Finale.
  • Feedback Rule: Occurs before Jack plays "Help".
  • Hand Wave: Jack has a bike accident at the same time there is a global power outage for 12 seconds, and he wakes up learning that no one has heard of the Beatles or their music. A news report indicates a solar flare caused it, but there is absolutely no further explanation for what or how it happened.
  • Hate Sink: Debra. She makes it pretty clear that she only sees Jack as a way for her to make tons of money, and it is rather satisfying to see her Villainous Breakdown near the end after Jack comes clean.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Gavin gracefully steps aside after Jack admits in front of the entire Wembley Stadium crowd that he's in love with Ellie.
  • In Spite of a Nail: Despite one of the foundational presences in pop culture being erased from existence, the world seems largely identical to ours. Once people start catching on to the songs they respond with the same fervor the Beatles generated, even though much of the pop music since is heavily descended from what they started.
  • Leno Device: Jack's appearance on The Late Late Show being interviewed by James Corden. While the scene shown in the finished film is a Nightmare Sequence, a deleted scene shows how it actually goes down, with him "composing" "Something" on the spot.
  • Like Goes with Like: Subverted. Ellie (white) has a Romantic False Lead in Gavin (white) but ends up with Jack (Indian) and they marry.
  • Lonely at the Top: Jack finds that Ellie is intimidated by him after becoming the greatest music star in the world.
  • Musical Theme Naming: Some of the characters are named for Beatles songs: Rocky, the roadie/temporary manager, for "Rocky Raccoon"; Ellie for "Eleanor Rigby", the one song that Jack has trouble remembering the words to; and Ellie's roommate is Lucy for "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds".
  • Music Is Politics: Jack gets a very quick crash course in just how brutal and unscrupulous people in the industry can be. Debra outright says his songs will make a lot of money and they will take most of it.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer implies that Paul and Ringo eventually confront Jack during his Late Late Show appearance, but the scene in question depicts an Anxiety Dream of Jack's and they never appear in the film.
  • Nice Guy: Gavin is the nicest in the film. He is a really kind person and very supportive even offering to record Jack’s first album for free. He even cool with Jack reuniting with Ellie who was his girlfriend at the time seeing how she loves Jack.
  • No Antagonist: Since apparently only two other people in this Universe know that the songs were originally by the Beatles, and they are happy he’s performing them, the only issue is Jack struggling with his conscience knowing that he didn’t write these amazing songs but is getting all the credit for them. Debra is an incredible jerk, but she’s only trying to achieve goals that are financially beneficial for both of them.
  • Oblivious to Love: Despite being his biggest fan, the most supportive of his music AND his dutiful manager, Jack never makes the connection that Ellie is deeply in love with him until she gets drunk at his farewell party and tells him directly.
  • Oh, Crap!: Jack's reaction to the claim two men made all of his songs who might be the still-living members of the band. However, it was just a dream.
  • Overshadowed by Awesome: Ed Sheeran is initially just impressed with Jack's songs, and grows to be jealous of how quickly he can write them. This leads to a 10 minute song writing challenge, with Jack producing another Beatles song, and Ed outright says that Jack is his Always Someone Better.
  • Pair the Spares: Ellie's roommate Lucy is implied to hook up with Gavin, while the Liverpool woman Liz and Russian man Leo are implied likewise.
  • Plagiarism in Fiction: Jack passes the Beatles' songs as his own. After all, after the global blackout, it's not as if anyone believes him when Jack tried to tell them that someone else wrote them.
  • Product Placement: Pepsi gets some prominent screen time, with an added bonus of chief rival Coca-Cola also getting erased from the timeline.
  • Rags to Riches: Jack is a poor musician with no audience that finds himself capable of stealing all of the Beatles' success.
  • The Reveal: It’s hinted at a few times that the man shown in Moscow and the woman seen in Liverpool both watching Jack know about the Beatles. The big reveal, though, is they aren't angry at Jack, but glad someone is sharing the Beatles. Liz, the woman, has even located John Lennon, who is still alive, but has no idea what he did in the original timeline. He doesn't even seem to know who Jack is despite him being world-famous by that point, thinking he is just a weirdo who wanted to see him.
  • Revised Ending: Similar to the theatrical ending with one small twist: Instead of Jack bringing up Harry Potter, Ellie does and Jack has never heard of him. Cue the Google search, no Harry Potter. But Ellie just says “never mind” and lets it go. Mind boggling in the implications.
  • Riddle for the Ages: What caused the blackout? Why did the Beatles get Ret Goned? We never find out. A newspaper headline shown for a few moments early in the movie suggests that the blackout was caused by a solar flare, but how history was changed is never revealed.
  • Ripple-Proof Memory: Jack is the only person who remembers the Beatles or so he thinks; a man in Moscow and a woman in Liverpool do, too, but they can't sing and are grateful that Jack is sharing the Beatles with the world.
  • The Roadie: Rocky. However, he is a far cry from the Hyper-Competent Sidekick they are usually portrayed as and is instead a Bumbling Sidekick at best.
  • Running Gag: The Beatles aren't the only thing missing from this world, and Jack only learns about them sporadically. Smash Cut to someone (presumably Jack) looking up the topic to see that it does not exist.
    • The fact that Coca-Cola doesn't exist is also used several times, as his request for Coke is met with some odd looks.
  • Scenery Porn: The movie makes an effort to portray nearly every location as beautiful as possible, but special notice goes to Liverpool, as Jack goes on a sightseeing tour to jump start his memory.
    • Gorleston is also a real place, a seaside town south of Great Yarmouth and it does look that pleasant in summer. Maybe the same glitch that moved Jack to an AU without the Beatles put the town in Suffolk, as the movie claims: in our universe, Gorleston is very definitely and firmly in Norfolk.
  • Self-Deprecation: Ed Sheeran refers to himself as a "ginger geezer".
  • Smug Snake: Debra certainly has a smug attitude during most of her screentime and is absolutely certain that Jack's records are going to make her millions.
  • Soul-Sucking Retail Job: Jack at the start is working part time in a supermarket with a boss who hates him.
  • Starstruck Speechless: When Ed Sheeran shows up at Jack's house, Jack is so stunned he puts his shirt on inside-out, and then has trouble saying anything that isn't totally awkward.
  • Surpassed the Teacher: Jack starts his career by being the warm-up act for Ed Sheeran who initially took him under his wing. However, after Jack wins their friendly competition, Ed is a Graceful Loser and expresses that he feels like this has taken place. Of course, this only adds to Jack's developing impostor syndrome.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • Jack becomes successful after plagiarizing many of The Beatles' songs when he discovers he's in a world where they never existed. However, he can't remember the lyrics to several of the songs, and being in such a world denies him the ability to Google said lyrics. This results in him changing some of the songs ever so slightly when writing them down.
    • Jack dreams of becoming a successful musician, but he can't seem to get anyone to notice him. However, when he finds himself being able to replicate The Beatles' success, he quickly finds that the life of a celebrity (the celebrity of The Beatles, which is about as famous as it gets) is very stressful, and he begins to rethink his choices.
    • Popular as The Beatles’ songs may be, some of the music’s lyrics are quite dated by today’s standards, which leads to Ed talking about how Jack calls Russia the USSR when it stopped being called that before Jack was born. As well as “Hey Jude” being changed to “Hey Dude” because the former sounds, in Ed’s words, “a little old-fashioned”.
  • Take That!: Despite the fact that every other band the Beatles influenced are apparently unchanged. Oasis, who are often criticized as a rip off of The Beatles, don't exist at all without them. (Jack notes "of course!")
  • That Came Out Wrong: Jack forgets that Coca-Cola doesn't exist and asks a flight attendant if she has any coke onboard. She misunderstands because, unfortunately for Jack, "coke" is still a slang name for cocaine. He quickly changes his order to Pepsi.
  • Too Many Cooks Spoil the Soup: Inverted, the music label wants to market Jack as a one man master of the craft, as every other artist has multiple producers or collaborators but he writes, composes, sings and mixes the songs all by himself. This contributes to his insecurities about reproducing the Beatles music, Alternate Universe or not.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Jack’s dad initially doesn’t recognise Ed Sheeran in his kitchen and keeps pushing him aside for condiments. When he finally notices him, he tells him he looks just like Ed Sheeran. After Ed says that’s exactly who he is, Mr Malik casually laughs, congratulates him on his success and walks out like it’s no big deal.
  • Villainous Breakdown: The closest thing the film has to an antagonist, Debra, becomes noticeably unhinged when Jack not only reveals to the world that he plagiarized the Beatles, but uploads all of his recordings of their songs for people to listen to free of charge. The last we see of Debra is her attempting to catch Jack as he and Ellie flee the stadium and irately screaming at him when Rocky blocks her path.
  • Villainy-Free Villain: Debra is incredibly ruthless, greedy and rude and the nearest thing the story has to an antagonist, but she also doesn't actually do anything illegal or underhanded. In fact she's completely upfront with Jack about being in business with him solely for the money.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Debra disappears at the end of the movie, last seen yelling at Jack as he and Ellie flee the show. The Distant Finale reveals he teaches Beatles songs to kids, but there's no word on Debra since she was pissed at Jack for having lied (and for leaking the entire album online).