Universal Pictures
Imagine there’s no Beatles. That’s it. That’s the concept behind Yesterday, an intermittently charming fable that’s part musical and part Twilight Zone-type morality tale, but is mostly just a romantic comedy—and a pretty limp one at that. A world without the Beatles is an easy idea to grasp, but becomes more and more bizarre to see played out over the course of a movie, and to Yesterday’s credit, it doesn’t really back itself into any narrative corners it can’t squirm out of. But that nimbleness also makes Yesterday feel incredibly lightweight.

A struggling singer/songwriter, Jack (Himesh Patel) crashes his bicycle and wakes up to find he’s the only one on Earth who can remember John, Paul, George, and Ringo. He decides to perform the Beatles’ songs and takes credit for writing them, and begins to reap the fame and riches his own material never garnered him. Now, there are all kinds of logic problems with this scenario (would “She Loves You” actually be a hit in 2019?) and the movie earns some jokes through the meta elements of the narrative, but that’s not the point of Yesterday.

Instead, we watch Jack struggle with the ethical implications of passing off others’ work as his own, problems that are exacerbated by the Faustian bargains offered by a big-shot manager (Kate McKinnon, missing only the horns, tail, and pitchfork). Jack’s newfound fame also takes him away from his friend Ellie (Lily James), who’s so obviously love-struck that it’s hard to feel any sympathy for Jack when he slowly, dimly realizes Ellie might be the one. Yeah, no shit, Jack.

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Beatles diehards will surely be infuriated by a few things in Yesterday, but in the end, I don’t think this movie’s really meant for them.

The movie’s got panache, particularly during the musical performances, thanks to director Danny Boyle, who’s in a genial, warm-hearted mood here. The script’s from Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually), and like a lot of his work, it’s funny and fleet of foot, but a bit flimsy when you start examining it closely. Ed Sheeran appears in a significant supporting role, gamely skewering himself in order to be the gateway drug for getting his fans interested the Beatles.

There are almost too many problems with Yesterday to pick them all apart, so it’s worth saying that the movie is mostly a pretty enjoyable experience. Beatles diehards will surely be infuriated by a few things along the way, but in the end, I don’t think this movie’s really meant for them. I think I first got into the Beatles when I was 11 or 12, and that’s probably the ideal age to see Yesterday. Its cock-eyed optimism about Beatles songs standing the test of time, irrespective of context, is both the most frustrating thing about the movie and the thing that makes it hum. So you can either run for your life, or turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream.