|Directed by:||Danny Boyle|
|Written by:||Richard Curtis, Jack Barth|
|Starring:||Himesh Patel, Lily James, Kate McKinnon, Ed Sheeran, Joel Fry, Sophia Di Martino|
|Released:||June 27, 2019|
Richard Curtis has some wonderful credits to his name including Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Bridget Jones’s Diary (I deliberately haven’t mentioned Love Actually). He didn’t come up with the original idea for Yesterday (credit there goes to Jack Barth) but Curtis was quick to join the project and write a screenplay given his lifelong love for The Beatles. He can even remember being a 6-year-old who waited outside a hotel trying to get a glimpse of John, Paul, Ringo and George when they toured Sweden in 1963.
Brought to the screen by Oscar winning director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), Yesterday features a cool premise. Some kind of weird cosmic event causes every electric device around the world to be switched off for roughly 12 seconds. It’s caused a rift in the space-time continuum and we now have a world where practically everything is the same… except The Beatles were never formed and hence, they never produced the unforgettable music that transformed the 1960s.
There’s a catch. For whatever reason, Jack Malik (Patel) is the only person on Earth who can remember The Beatles. He’s wanted to be a singer-songwriter since high school but despite his passion, he’s struggled to write catchy lyrics and is yet to catch his big break. That’s about to change though. Jack can take The Beatles’ iconic songs (or at least those he can remember), pass them off as his own and become an international music star.
All films have production challenges but in the case of Yesterday, one of the trickier tasks was to secure access to The Beatles music. The rights are currently held by Apple Corps (performance rights) and Sony ATV (cover rights) with both entities being very protective about their product. After lengthy negotiations, Boyle and the producers were able to secure a deal that took up “a substantive part of the film’s budget” but allowed them to play 17 different Beatles songs throughout the movie. The closing credits include a rare original master recording for “Hey Jude”.
While I’m sure it will appeal to Beatles fans, Curtis has erred in structuring the story as a formulaic rom-com. Ellie (James) has served as Jack’s manager for more than a decade and has followed him to every event like a love-sick puppy dog. The character makes no sense. It’s depressing that one woman would invest so much emotional energy over such a long period into a man who refuses to reciprocate and has zero music talent (at least based on the crowds turning up to his shows pre-fame). The up-and-down nature of their relationship across the film’s two hour running time also feels fake and forced.
If you think that’s illogical, wait until you see the ending. The film sells uplifting messages about life, music and happiness (e.g. two unique fans, a meeting at a beachside home) but then becomes unnecessarily moralistic during a key scene where Jack performs on stage following an Ed Sheeran concert. Why would he make the decision to say that and why would the audience understand and react accordingly?
It’s a shame the film doesn’t work because there are positives. Newcomer Himesh Patel is likeable in the lead role, Kate McKinnon earns laughs as a tell-it-like-it-is manager, and Ed Sheehan isn’t afraid to mock his own talent in playing himself. The movie also boasts a few nice surprises (e.g. the fate of a fizzy drink) which take advantage of the time-changing narrative and add humour.
Failing to take advantage of its fun concept, Yesterday is a stale, unrealistic romantic comedy.