There’s a rule in storytelling that your hero must have agency. He or she must make the key choices that push the story forward. They must make a key decision by the end of the first act, and this decision will take them through their journey.

In comedy, this rule is often broken. Agency is removed from the hero, through a series of unfortunate-but-funny incidents, and leaves him or her in a situation that is entirely beyond their control. When the hero’s agency is removed, that creates space for comedy. This is the fish out of water” story.

Unfortunately, Yesterday bungles this whole concept. Rather than have his agency removed from him, Jack wakes up in a world where nobody remembers the Beatles — and his first thought is to steal all of their songs!

In a better comedy, Jack would play his favourite songs for his friends, almost as a coping mechanism. His friends would request them at pubs. He’d be told to record them; it would be almost forced upon him. He would eventually end up on stage performing for thousands. He would be confused and desperate to get out of a situation he has no agency in. Finally, the still-living McCartney and Ringo show up on the scene. Somehow, they know.

Instead of this, thanks to the misplaced insistence that Jack must have agency, we have a cynical story about stealing other people’s creative work for profit. And Jack does it so easily! And he never learns the value of making his own creative work. In fact, he gets away with everything.

The message is confused, muddy, and bizarre.

Not only that, but the film’s suggestion that the magic of the Beatles is in their sheer songwriting prowess, rather than their performance as a band, is impossible to believe. 

Yesterday is my least favourite sort of film: one brimming with potential, with an unbeatable hook, that somehow completely fails to live up to its premise. Any decent writing team could have workshopped this into a masterpiece of humour, but we’re left with this middling work.

It’s not all bad, though. Himesh Patel and Lily James are both delightful, even if the script woefully under serves their acting capabilities. Everybody except the writer tried.

And why did Danny Boyle film everything on an angle?

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