With such a high and intriguing central concept from Danny Boyle (director) and writer Richard Curtis, Yesterday looks set to soar at the box office. On the surface it’s a cheery flight of fantasy featuring the music of the most widely loved bands of all time (The Beatles) and arrives hot on the sequin heels of pop/ rock biopic/ film behemoths Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman. However, after several festival screenings, this Boyle/ Curtis collaboration has polarised viewers; for the two talents have tactlessly withered an ingenious concept into sappy, congenial tea-time pap that could have been a brilliant brain bending sci-fi musical about multiverses but instead lands as bland and forgettable as the band it’s about (in this context).
Gawky twenty-something supermarket shelf-stacker, Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), dreams of being a rich and famous singer/song writer. In his spare time, he busks and plays gigs in pubs while pondering stardom and living in his parents Lowestoft home. Until one night, Jack gets knocked off his bike and wakes up hospitalised in a reality/ world where The Beatles never existed. With the memory of their music, Jack takes another crack at stardom by passing The Beatles’ songs as his own and, by doing so, learns that success doesn’t necessarily bring happiness and that all you need is love with caveats.
Despite its defects, Yesterday boasts enough enjoyable moments to make a pleasant and feathery backdrop to a two-hour doze. Surprises arrive in the guise of other new world differences (it’s not just The Beatles’ absence that’s different) while scenes featuring Jack struggling to recall lyrics and embarking on panicked internet/ fact checking frenzies are amusing. Sadly though, this Boyle/ Curtis collaboration coagulates due to flimsy characters, bland story-telling and a mishandled, maudlin romance: the type of which Ricky Gervais could have mastered if behind the pen and lens with Stephen Merchant.
Where Gervais’ oddly similar but equally muddled The Invention of Lying doesn’t feel a stone’s throw in terms of plot and concept, but was botched for different reasons, Curtis clumsily re-crafts passé arcs of claptrap, hackneyed romcoms passed. The protagonists, while affable, are aggravatingly dull. Jack is permissive yet endearing while Curtis writes Elle (Lily James), Jack’s manager/ best friend, as wet and doting, but they are both played well by James and Patel. Ed Sheeran is also astonishingly bearable, as himself in a supporting role, self-deprecating and otiose. Sanjeev Bhaskar and Meera Syal prevail as Jack’s parents but Kate McKinnon is wasted as a stereotypically dollar-eyed music manager.
Palpable parallels about being governed by smart phones, social media, app tech and pop culture bolster the wonky plot while its Twilight Zone type concept curtails the story into startling new territory before back-tracking onto the trivial lost love and lessons learnt path. Cagy strangers lurk in the background as multiverse/ Mandela effect titbits twist the story into another astonishing, albeit brief subplot that leads to another dead end.
Curtis’ resists exploring Yesterday’s fascinating central concept enough and instead succumbs to the type of textbook love tale that’s been told and blundered too many times. Here, once again, it is crushingly mishandled, for Yesterday whiffs, is often wincingly mawkish but has moments which raise smiles, and enough of a spring its step to make the two-hour running time flit by nicely, like a Sunday stroll in the garden centre, if you like that sort of thing.
Yesterday is out in cinemas on the 20th June.
Words by Daniel Goodwin.
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