Yesterday, on paper, spells a recipe for delight. It joins two established filmmakers with distinct styles and structures, Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) and Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Four Weddings and a Funeral), and is set to the revolutionising music of The Beatles. But that’s not all; the songs of John, Paul, George and Ringo are rediscovered and explored in a modern setting through Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), who is seemingly the only person to remember The Beatles after a worldwide blackout wipes their existence from the face of the Earth.
Despite its moments of pleasure and emotion evoked by the ever-astonishing music of The Beatles, Yesterday is nothing more than a barebone romantic comedy in keeping with the standard fundamentals of a Richard Curtis flick.
Curtis’ structure here is a simple one; after Jack quickly spirals into a life of fame and fortune as a result of him modelling the Liverpudlian band’s music as his own, he begins to lose touch with his closest friend Ellie (Lily James), who was Jack’s manager through all his years of hardship as a struggling local performer. The pair’s displacement raises questions within Jack on what he really wants from life.
There’s a strange parallel here between this premise and the flow of the film; Yesterday, much like its young protagonist, loses track of itself towards the middle, loosely entwining side-plots in a haze of emotional exuberance. One sub-plot of particular significance is pushed aside to the point where its barely memorable before suddenly returning, making the overall integrity of the film somewhat shaky. It may be easy for Curtis to have focussed so much on the relationship between the two friends in a ‘will-they won’t-they’ romantic entanglement, but Boyle’s often sharp visionary filmmaking skills seem to have taken a back seat here in favour of Curtis’ conventional structure, which is a shame.
Thus, Yesterday is very much a ‘Long and Winding Road’ towards a predictable outcome. What’s more, Curtis’ general dumbing-down of the overall message of The Beatles further highlights just how plain and normative the narrative is. The Beatles were edgy, experimental and often controversial, but there is nothing new in Yesterday to mirror this legacy.
It’s essentially a 2-hour long “what if?” gag, which wears out halfway through the film. But to say Yesterday completely turns the viewer off as it progresses would be unfair. It can be heart-warming and uplifting, especially so when listening to the awe-inspiring repertoire of the Fab Four. Patel and James’ on-screen chemistry is undeniable, however it’s not enough to save from the fact that Yesterday by no means manages to encapsulate the magic of The Beatles’ life and music throughout its course (all this without even mentioning the downright cringeworthy acting – if you can even call it that – from Ed Sheeran. Kudos to him though for being game).
With a bit more attention paid to the quirkiness of the context, Yesterday could have been a mesmerising hit. Instead, Danny Boyle’s latest will sadly fizzle out into obscurity when it ought to have been as celebrated as the band members themselves.
Image credit: MovieDB