Film review: ‘YESTERDAY’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

A film directed by Danny Boyle, written by Richard Curtis and featuring lashings of Beatles music seems like a failsafe recipe and while musical rom-com Yesterday has some fine moments, it never quite lives up to its promise.

In a scenario that sees speculative history meet Sliding Doors-style ‘what if’ urban fantasy, failed British singer-song writer Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) wakes up after bike accident and a mysterious global blackout to find himself in a world where the Beatles have never existed although he can recall their music. He realises he now has a gold mine of Beatles tunes he can pass of as his. Understandably, he becomes a star but he begins to regret the impact of his deception on himself and his relationship with long-time friend Ellie (Lily James).

This is rich material for a satire of fame, popular culture, artistic ambition and the recording industry but this middling film never lands the powerful blows it should. It doesn’t build sufficiently on the initial premise leading to a fairly thin and predictable storyline that at times turns into a slightly mushy romantic fantasy.

There’s a feeling that the film is a compromise between Danny Boyle and Richard Curtis’ artistic visions and neither of them got their way. The romantic drama doesn’t work as well as previous Working Title hits such as Notting Hill and Love Actually and the gags are a little obvious.

Still, this is quite an endearing film with a likeable lead performance from Dinesh Patel as the unassuming Jack and a very charming one from the perky Lily James. Joel Fry offers a couple of amusing moment as the obligatory doufus mate, Rocky but he’s not as funny as he was clearly meant to be. Ed Sheeran also appears in an ok performance that goes beyond cameo and he performs a really nice tune at one point. Not quite hitting the right note, though, is Kate McKinnon’s portrayal of Jack and Ed Sheeran’s Pitbull-like US manager. McKinnon’s strange facial expressions and exaggerated malevolence just make her an awkward caricature.

Not surprisingly, the film’s biggest asset is its feast of Beatles tunes. Curtis and Boyle are clearly fans who know the band and provide a terrific selection of tracks which are performed wonderfully by Himesh Patel. The film reminds us of the Beatles astonishing outpouring of music in the 1960’s and the way in which the world embraces the songs in the film is entirely credible.

Inevitably, a film relying on this sort of sci-fi/ fantasy premise (much like time travel movies) will run into trouble with its internal logic. Here, the world is almost exactly the same as the one we know except it doesn’t contain the Beatles and a couple of big names brands (which are really just named for product placement purposes) although this situation does allow the film’s best gag about another well-known band. Because the world hasn’t really changed, though, it undercuts what appears to be its central theme that the world without the Beatles is a much sadder one.

Yesterday isn’t quite the film for which we might have hoped but there’s enough charm and great music to make it worthwhile.

Nick’s rating: ***

Genre: Fantasy, romantic comedy, rock music film.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Danny Boyle.

Release date: 27th June 2019.

Running time: 116 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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