Thu, 11 Jul 2019
THERE’s a tantalising ‘what-if’ scenario at the heart of this musical fantasy that goes some way in outshining the film itself. Musician Jack (Himesh Patel) ekes out a living on the British pub circuit, with only his (clearly besotted) manager Ellie (Lily James) at hand for support. After being knocked unconscious during a mysterious blackout, he awakes to find that any trace of The Beatles’ music has been erased from the face of the Earth. A world without the Fab Four – imagine! Yesterday is the brainchild of a British romcom dream team, with Danny Boyle directing a script penned by Richard Curtis. While Curtis smuggles a few of his pet clichés into the script (including a fanciful beauty-and-the-dweeb romance), the British king of bourgeois slush has – thankfully – been side-lined, with his influence largely failing to register upon the final film. Instead, what we get is a joyous, frequently charming Big Idea vehicle, bursting at the seams with jukebox gusto. It somewhat outstays its welcome (and is unlikely to top any cynic’s ‘to watch’ list), but, promising as it does an effortless afternoon at the cinema – something that’s all too hard to come by nowadays – one would be ill-advised to prejudge it.
While it’s been billed as a Beatles musical, Yesterday is actually a run-of-the-mill Boyle comedy with a few Lennon/McCartney hits thrown in for good measure. It’s less concerned with delivering a toe-tapping soundtrack than it is with mining its central conceit for nuggets of wisdom. For all its eye-rolling airiness, this is a film with much to say about the perils of musical celebrity. Jack resolves to exploit the ignorance of his cohorts by performing Beatles songs as his own, to instant international acclaim. Yesterday scores bit-parts from all the big names in the perennial British cameo industry, from Karl Theobald to James Corden. Ed Sheeran crops up for a meatier role, playing an alternate version of himself that’s awed by Jack’s ‘talent’; it’s all undeniably bonkers, but forgivably light and good-natured, with Ed rarely giving the impression he’s anything other than a top lad. The weakest contribution comes in the form of Kate McKinnon’s wicked-witch music exec, who bargains for Jack’s soul – it’s a turgid and unnecessary addition, with McKinnon’s character functioning as the yin to Ellie’s MPDG yang. Indeed, Yesterday could’ve disposed wholesale of its romantic subplot and suffered little for it – the musical sequences are a pleasure in themselves. While the term tends to evoke negative connotations, Danny Boyle has always specialised in a type of cinematic populism, dropping crowd-pleasing pictures with a vaguely indie edge. Yesterday embodies this formula distilled to its very essence, schmaltzy and silly yet possessed of a sky-high concept that’s melancholic to the core. Enjoy it while you can.