Are film critics saying ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’ to ‘Yesterday,’ Danny Boyle’s what-if ode to Beatlemania?

Imagine what would happen if edgy Oscar-winner Danny Boyle of “Trainspotting” and “Slumdog Millionaire” fame directed a crowd-pleasing script by “Love Actually” scribe Richard Curtis that suggests the Beatles never happened and only one struggling British musician remembers their songs?

That is the premise of “Yesterday,” which officially opens nationwide this week. Its biggest draw is that it features 17 tunes by the Fab Four that an unknown artist, Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), passes off as his own and becomes an instant superstar as a result. Also in the cast is Lily James as his loyal manager who secretly loves him and Kate McKinnon as a greedy, cold-hearted American agent who thinks she has hit the jackpot with Jack.

Reviews have been somewhat mixed, with a current Metacritic score of 54 and Rotten Tomatoes fresh ranking of 62%. But very few critics seem to out-right dismiss the vacation-time rom-com treat. And those who most find themselves charmed and touched by the high-concept premise tend to be from Old Blimey. That might be more about the deep-seated nostalgia that is stirred when it comes to the mop-topped foursome John, Paul, George and Ringo than it is the film itself.

Helen O’Hara of “Empire” writes: “There’s something profoundly disturbing about the idea of a world without The Beatles, whether you’re a die-hard fan or someone known to drunkenly chant the “la la” bit of ‘Hey Jude’, and that’s true even if the world’s loss is our hero’s gain. So while Danny Boyle’s new film is still a largely warm and frequently surprising affair, its unusual premise gives it an edge that other jukebox hits – “Bohemian Rhapsody.” for example – have lacked.”

Peter Bradshaw of “The Guardian” opines: “Maybe it shouldn’t be any sort of evaluative factor, but the simple fact of hearing Beatles songs, the simple thought experiment of pretending to hear them for the first time, does carry a charge. And, although this film can be a bit hokey and uncertain on narrative development, the puppyish zest and fun summoned up by Curtis and Boyle carry it along.”

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As for those who write for outlets on these shores, USA TODAY’s Brian Truit grants “Yesterday” three out of four stars while saying,  “Well, the good news is the musical fantasy is a mostly enjoyable stroll down Penny Lane. Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire”) and Richard Curtis (“Love Actually”) team up for a tribute to the Fab Four’s rich catalog – and a sometimes sobering exploration of instant fame – that introduces an endearing, guitar-strumming new star in British actor Himesh Patel.”

Peter Travers of “Rolling Stone” gives “Yesterday” three and a half stars out of five and calls it a “a light summer breeze of escapist fun.” He especially praises the movie’s leading man: “All this puts a lot of pressure on Patel to deliver, which he does with becoming modesty and undeniable talent. The actor has a sweet voice, more McCartney than Lennon, and he evokes the Beatles without slavishly imitating them. For instance, his driving take on ‘Help!’ carries a desperation that speaks to Jack’s own situation as a man out of his depth.”

A.O. Scott of “The New York Times” is also more pro than con while weaving hints of Beatles lyrics into his critique: “I’m sure the filmmakers have a good reason for taking the easy way out, but “Yesterday” is more of a novelty earworm than a classic. It’s appealing and accessible in a way that the Beatles never really were. If it took itself — and them– a bit more seriously, it would be a lot more fun. But it wasn’t made to last.”

Less enthusiastic is “Time”magazine’s Stephanie Zachareck, who takes issue with the romantic elements, especially those concerning James’ character. But even she can’t quite fully dismiss the pull of the premise:  “It’s all perfectly charming if you don’t look too closely, and even if you do, “Yesterday” proves one thing: The appeal of the Beatles is built right into the DNA of their songs—or, perhaps, it’s just hardwired into many of us. Patel does his own singing in “Yesterday”— the songs include “Let It Be,” “In My Life” and, of course, the title track—and his voice, dusky and sweet, is perfectly enjoyable. Then again, these songs have the ability to elevate even terrible street buskers.”

Justin Chang gets a bit cranky in his “Los Angeles Times” assessment: “Like a lot of ostensibly feel-good musicals, it tries to pass off its own laziness as a whimsical lightness of spirit — which means, of course, that any resistance to its meager charms will likely be chalked up to the viewer’s chronic uptightness or an underdeveloped capacity for joy. But it is hard to blame the audience for a movie that keeps daring us to envision a richer, funnier, more intelligent and imaginative version of it at every turn.”

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