It’s important to know that the romantic comedy “Yesterday” is written by Richard Curtis, who also gave the world the strangely beloved Christmas romance “Love Actually” — and that the new movie, like the old one, falls apart if you think about it even slightly.
Jack Malik (played by newcomer Himesh Patel) is a struggling musician in Suffolk, England, who plays his original songs for tiny and inattentive audiences at pubs around the area. His biggest fan, and really his only fan, is his manager, Ellie Appleton (Lily James). The two have been friends since childhood, though Jack tells people they aren’t romantically inclined toward each other — though Ellie’s forlorn looks say she wishes it were otherwise.
After one disastrous gig, Jack is ready to give it up and go back to teaching, which is also Ellie’s paying job. As he’s riding his bicycle home, a power outage hits the entire globe — because director Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire,” “127 Hours”) can’t do things halfway — and Jack is hit by a bus.
When Jack wakes up in the hospital, minus a couple of teeth, everything seems fine. Gradually, though, he realizes something is amiss: Nobody around him, even Ellie and his friends, has ever heard of The Beatles. A Google search confirms that The Beatles never existed (and, in a cruel dig, Jack also learns the band Oasis was never a thing, either).
Jack tries to remember The Beatles’ songs as best he can — the imagery of “Eleanor Rigby” is especially difficult to piece together — and perform them in his club set. Suddenly, Jack’s music gets noticed, from a local TV show to Ed Sheeran (playing himself), who hires Jack to be the opening act in his European tour, starting in Moscow. (Cue “Back in the U.S.S.R.”)
Sheeran’s American manager, the appropriately named Debra Hammer, starts circling Jack like a shark in stilettos. She’s played by Kate McKinnon, and her moments of oily sweet-talking are the only genuinely funny parts of the movie.
But it’s too good to last. Curtis (sharing story credit with Jack Barth) drags us back to Jack’s singular determination to miss Ellie’s signals, which are bright enough to prevent shipwrecks, as he dodges the effects of his one-man Beatle-mania.
Most of the supposed joy of “Yesterday” is squeezed from the elbow-in-the-ribcage references to the Fab Four, both in song cues and visual references (like when Jack is chased by fans, a la “A Hard Day’s Night”). But if appealing to Beatles fans was the goal, there’s a bit near the end that will likely anger and sicken those same fans.
Before that happens, the audience will already be turned off by Patel, a veteran of the UK soap “EastEnders” and a completely charm-free romantic lead. Even Ed Sheeran is more appealing than this guy, and he’s a Hobbit. It’s just one miscalculation out of many, but one that makes “Yesterday” not half the movie it wants to be.
Opens Friday, June 28, at theaters everywhere. Rated PG-13 for suggestive content and language. Running time: 116 minutes.