Yesterday is a high concept music romance comedy drama from Slumdog Millionaire’s Danny Boyle and Love, Actually’s Richard Curtis. The film follows Jack, a struggling musician, who finds himself in a world where he’s able to pass the music of The Beatles off as his own. Boyle and Curtis, two of Britain’s most respected filmmakers, responsible for films such as Trainspotting and Notting Hill, combine forces in Yesterday. An unexpected pairing, Boyle adds his prowess as a visionary director while Curtis delivers the feel-good revising an original screenplay as screenwriter.
Starring Himesh Patel as Jack, with supporting acts in Lily James and Kate McKinnon, Yesterday is a film about the legacy of The Beatles but also about love. Who knew that when a bunch of blokes from Liverpool got together and made some music that it would one day change the world. Ah… The Quarrymen. Don’t worry, we are still talking about John, Paul, Ringo and George. By using one of their former band names, you get the idea… what if they never existed? At least not to everyone. That’s the premise at the heart of Yesterday as an accident sends Jack Malik hurtling into a paradigm without things like The Beatles. Living in a world where The Beatles have been forgotten by almost everyone including Google, a young musician makes it his mission to recover as much of their music as possible, selling it as his own and gradually becoming known as the one of the best musicians of all-time.
Boyle doesn’t spend much time in trying to explain the mystery but instead settles on the real romance drama instead as the story comes to focus on Jack and the girl in his life. It’s a charming and promising debut for Patel whose likable lead performance lights the way with many strong “covers” of popular Beatles numbers. Listening and watching someone else perform their music in an alternate world gives us a chance to approach it with fresh appreciation by conduit. Beyond being an enjoyable tribute of their most popular music, we’re able to live vicariously through Jack, who gives us an idea of how it may have been received by modern audiences.
“I like to call this one Twist and Shout.”
Lily James is terrific once again, bringing plenty of heart and soul in a supporting role. A wallflower, purposefully stepping out of the limelight to let Jack shine, her good girl innocence is fresh as far as on-screen romances go. It’s great to see a more wholesome and pure kind of romance… possibly influenced by John Carney, whose films Once, Begin Again and Sing Street have inspired and then propagated the last decade’s slew of heartfelt music romance dramas. While their chemistry is good, one or two moments seem out-of-character and rushed. Then, it’s always good to see Ed Sheeran… as himself.
While the first half is hilarious as the down-and-out musician is gob-smacked to discover a world unfamiliar with the music of the Beatles, it shifts gear to become more introspective about his anguish and turmoil around living a lie. Keeping things open-ended, the film takes a fairly predictable narrative path with one or two surprises for good measure. Instead of over-analysing the life-and-times of The Beatles in this modern era, imagining the pop culture hole they left behind or going headlong into the ethical quagmire of copying music, Curtis decides to keep the warm and fuzzy feeling alive with echoes of About Time. Yesterday is an uplifting, entertaining and enjoyable music romance drama, although it does lean quite heavily on the power of its timeless music.
The bottom line: Uplifting