Current Issue #488

Film Review: Yesterday

Film Review: Yesterday

Producer/director Danny Boyle’s latest has clunky moments and dubious touches, and yet it proves a crowd-pleasing charmer anyway because of a startlingly large (and surely startlingly expensive) bunch of Beatles songs.

Boyle’s the kind of filmmaker whose every movie is something different, and this is his first proper comic-romantic-fantastic outing since the frankly weird A Life Less Ordinary 22 years ago. And about as far away from Trainspotting and 28 Days Later as humanly possible.

The central conceit is now well-known: Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a struggling, Suffolk-based musician who’s thinking of packing it in and going back to teaching, but his longtime-pal and manager Ellie Appleton (Lily James) keeps encouraging him to keep going. How dopey Jack doesn’t realise that Ellie has loved him since high school is one of many elements of Richard Curtis’ script that doesn’t make a lot of sense, especially considering how much she stares doe-eyed at him, but it doesn’t need to because we’re building to the crux of the plot, as a mysterious worldwide blackout leads to a bike accident and Jack awakening in a world where The Beatles never existed.

This little fact comes to light when Jack plays a chunk of the titular track to friends (note how many of the tunes are only heard in cost-cutting bits), and then, when his strange predicament properly dawns on him, there are funny ongoing gags where he tries to remember the music and lyrics to all those wonderful classics. And, after trying to perform Let It Be to his parents (Meera Syal and Sanjeev Bhaskar, two of The Kumars) and knocking off In My Life on a local TV show, he’s sought out by (no spoilers necessary because he’s in the trailer) no less than Ed Sheeran, playing an awkward but amusing version of himself and taking Jack along to be the support act on his tour.

It’s all fabulously improbable and contrived but who cares? Jack makes it to LA as his celebrity status goes through the roof and he’s courted by a clichéd American agent named Deborah Hammer (Kate McKinnon, not quite right), and he increasingly feels like a fraud as Ellie seems further and further away and she starts revenge-dating a gormless twit named Gavin (Alexander Arnold as a script device required to make the story work).

But the songs! There are early sequences where Jack, Ellie and Gavin perform She Loves You, I Saw Her Standing There and other rocky numbers at a home studio; Jack gets a crowd sing-along going during Back In The U.S.S.R. at Sheeran’s Moscow show; a fantasy sequence features Ellie in place of Eleanor Rigby; and there’s even a few cuts from the ‘Abbey Road Medley’ like You Never Give Me Your Money and, fittingly, Carry That Weight.

Patel, in his first starring role, is strong as the conflicted Jack (and he can sing too), and Lily is also good even if her character has a sort of phony, gooey Richard Curtis/Love Actually vibe to it, while Joel Fry goes over the top as hopeless bestie Rocky and Sheeran proves that he isn’t really an actor. However, he is Ed Sheeran, so he’ll be okay.

But, in the end, this isn’t about the strained characterisations or the unlikely twists: it’s about the music, and isn’t it great that Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono and George Harrison’s estate (his wife Olivia and son Dhani) allowed so many of the Fab Four’s songs (17 in the final cut) to be used?

And just think of it: a world without The Beatles? Help!

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