A love letter to the The Beatles’ musical legacy would inevitably make its way into the world of popular film, if anything to showcase a valuable selection of their finest work. What would surprise me though, is if that same film featured a world in which nobody has ever heard of The Beatles, and that’s exactly what Yesterday provides. With a peculiar and moderately interesting premise, Danny Boyle’s latest feature film comes off as a messy love letter to the word of the Fab Four.
Bordering on nuanced fan fiction, Yesterday tells the story of Jack Malick (Himesh Patel), seemingly the only man in the world that can remember The Beatles and the impact they had on musical history. Since nobody else can remember The Beatles or their music, it’s up to Malick to recite, record and release as many of the famous tracks as possible, to bring about his dream of becoming a musician and also to preserve the history of John, Paul, George and the other guys’ music.
There is a slew of problems with the movie, most of them can be traced back to the awful writing; romantic comedy tropes from the very beginning, the tried and tested “will they, won’t they” formula is on its last legs of uniqueness, and Yesterday can’t invigorate any life into this story whatsoever. Lily James and Himesh Patel make for a suitable leading duo, with James’ performances in the likes of Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again making her a suitable love interest for newcomer Patel. They are certainly the best parts of the movie, with Patel’s leading performance blending a moderately talented vocal career with some strong leading man material, but that’s all there is to Yesterday, a film that uses the work of The Beatles as a backdrop to a tedious and cliché romantic story that plays out exactly how you would expect it to. Building up the Jack character would’ve been incredibly easy, but for some reason the movie avoids the typical styling of the fish out of water trope. Jack doesn’t struggle with his sudden rise to stardom in the ways we would expect, worrying more about losing the woman he doesn’t realise he loves than anything the rock and roll lifestyle will provide him.
A surprisingly horrid supporting cast is just that, and the likes of Ed Sheeran, Kate McKinnon and Joel Fry adorn the one-dimensional, flat characters that litter the entirety of the movie. McKinnon’s performance as Deborah in particular is immediately forgettable. Deborah is portrayed as a villain, but fails to hold enough weight or brevity to actually give us anything to dislike about her, except for her main motivation being money. Ed Sheeran suffers his way through the few scenes he’s given, and while Fry isn’t the worst supporting comedy sidekick, he drains any enthusiasm for the movie rather quickly.
Writer Richard Curtis is a favourite of mine, crafting the charmingly perfect “About Time”, but it’s a shame to see him write himself into a few corners here. The Beatles are not the only piece of pop culture to have disappeared from the face of the Earth. Coca-Cola, cigarettes and Oasis all disappear along with the music of the Fab Four. It doesn’t make much sense, how a handful of items have disappeared entirely, and it’s never addressed or delved into deeper. What I was really hoping for was some form of conclusion to how or why this has happened, but it’s brushed under the carpet as a mad phenomenon, and nothing else comes of it.
Maybe the saving grace is Boyle’s direction, which in its early parts, channels some diagonally tilted camera angles that scream Terry Gilliam homage. Aside from that, it’s your stock and standard amalgamation of camera work, the same colourful backdrops and lighting the whole way through without much thought for how the story and the direction can intersect. Anyone could’ve directed this, and it’s nowhere close to feeling anything like a Danny Boyle movie.
I could’ve just as easily stayed at home and played “Don’t Let Me Down”, a song that is oddly missing in a film that looks to catalogue the best (Strawberry Fields Forever) and worst (Octopuses Garden) of The Beatles. A little bit of me feels like Yesterday fared a little better because of one throwaway line about Pulp, and if that has had any impact whatsoever on my viewing of the film, it’s a sad sign that Richard Curtis is running out of charming chemistry.