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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Yesterday is a comedy with fantasy elements about a musician named Jack (Himesh Patel) who, after an accident, wakes up to a world in which the Beatles never existed -- and all their hit songs can be his. The movie's levels of sex, violence, and language are appropriate for teen viewers, making this a good choice for cross-generational viewing. Violence is limited to an early scene in which Jack is hit by a bus (and the aftermath, in which viewers repeatedly see him with broken and missing teeth). Characters kiss and fall into bed together in a couple of scenes, but there's no sex. A sweet romance builds over time between well-drawn characters who both have agency; it stalls at one point because they agree they don't want to start a romance if they aren't ready for it to get serious. Adults drink at parties and celebratory moments; at one point, two characters decide to get drunk so they can find the courage to kiss. Language is infrequent but includes "s--t," "son of a bitch," "damn," and "bloody." The cast is diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, and class, with both women and people of color in strong central roles. And characters are thoughtful and respectful; they make mistakes but make up for them and do better, sending clear messages of integrity and courage.
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What's the story?
YESTERDAY, Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) was a struggling singer-songwriter who played music that nobody really liked, except for his loyal best friend and manager, Ellie (Lily James). But then Jack gets hit by a bus at the exact same time as a mysterious global blackout. When he returns to consciousness, it's to a world in which the Beatles never existed: Only Jack remembers their songs. He starts performing the Fab Four's hits as his, and he leapfrogs to success thanks to the backing of Ed Sheeran and new power-hungry manager Debra Hammer (Kate McKinnon), leaving Ellie out in the cold. But is it really success if, deep down, all the adulation doesn't make Jack feel truly happy -- or deserving?
Is it any good?
With a high-concept premise that could skew either cute or pretty stupid, this easygoing fantasy romcom sticks the landing overall. Patel can actually sing -- he capably performs almost every Beatles song in the movie (from "Let It Be" to "Back in the U.S.S.R.") -- and he's both sweet and relatable. So much so that it would be almost painful to watch him struggle onstage at the beginning of the movie if you didn't know exactly where the story was going. Since you do, the indignities visited on him have a kind of pre-Wonka Charlie Bucket shine, with suffering bearable as a prelude to wild success.
The light touch that Yesterday gives to Jack's rags-to-riches journey is carried forth throughout the entire movie -- nothing's too intense or harsh. The romance between Jack and Ellie is affectionate and gentle; Jack's parents wander through, alternately hugging their son and looking for snacks; the worst thing that the movie's only villain manages to do is tell Jack he's unattractive. At one point, two romantic rivals even resolve their differences with a friendly handshake. It feels like all the rough edges have been sanded off, which isn't an insult: Yesterday is a lot of fun. But you also won't be surprised to find out that the film was scripted by Richard Curtis (he of the similarly mild and enjoyable films Love Actually, Bridget Jones's Diary, and Notting Hill) and directed by Danny Boyle with a Slumdog Millionaire air. If any of those movies are on your faves list, put this one in the "must watch" queue.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about romantic comedies. What does Yesterday have in common with other films in the genre? How does it break the mold? Is it typical in romcoms that two characters who are clearly meant to be together have something that keeps them apart until the end? What's the "something" here? Is it believable?
What messages does this movie send about success and fame? Do those things make Jack happy? Why or why not? What does the movie imply is the source of his true happiness?
- In theaters: June 28, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: September 24, 2019
- Cast: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Kate McKinnon, Sophia Di Martino
- Director: Danny Boyle
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Music and Sing-Along
- Character strengths: Courage, Integrity
- Run time: 116 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: suggestive content and language
- Last updated: September 24, 2020
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