Aida Vucic | 27/06/2019
Highly innovative, upbeat and fun - Yesterday will win your heart whether you’re a Beatles fan or not.
Jack (Hamish Patel) is the jovial, aspiring musician, who is ready to cut his losses and return to his former career as a teacher. Suddenly, a freak electrical storm causes him to collide with a bus and momentarily lose consciousness. The world Jack awakes to has changed; it’s a world where the Beatles never existed (alongside a series of other things that get progressively funnier throughout the film). Jack may not have Coca Cola’s secret recipe, but he does know the words to the Beatles songs and exploits this by passing them off as his own. Capturing the attention of real life superstar Ed Sheeran, Jack skyrockets to stardom. But at what cost? He’s drinking from the grail of fame, but in doing so forgoing a life with his best friend, Ellie (Lily James); the best friend who has only recently expressed her feelings for him.
There’s no real mystery to the Yesterday. The characters objectives and intentions are clear, even the end result is known. Richard Curtis, who wrote the film, tosses in a few curve balls with the route taken, but we have seen the broad strokes of this story a million times before. However, the message of the power of music and art being able to transcend above the corrosive nature of the social media world that we live in is clear, as is the notion that “love” and some music is all you really need.
Danny Boyle does a great job bringing the music of the Beatles into the film. He strikes a balance between reliance and overreliance on the music, and builds humour into the piece without ever satirising.
That is coupled with a genuinely fan-feeling walk through not only some of the best songs of the British foursome, but also some of the locations that inspired their work.
The supporting cast is all fantastic; from a slightly egotistical Ed Sheeran to a wildly excessive PR executive played by Kate McKinnon. While all generally caricatures, they somewhat need to be given the route Boyle takes in approaching his co-leads. Jack and Ellie are quintessentially British, and their story is so grounded as to almost feel homemade.
For such a smart move in terms of grounding the story, it is disappointing that the pair were unable to achieve the chemistry we would expect from a film of this nature. That’s not a reflection on James or Patel. but rather a flaw in the nature of these two characters. Ellie is soooo emotionally invested in a relationship with Jack it becomes slightly offputting for the audience, particularly in the #metoo era. Jack, meanwhile, is the typical laid back guy from down the road, so never achieves those levels of interest in Ellie - even when he is desperately trying to win her back. Boyle also never really provides any reason for Ellie to be so blinded by love.
That being said, Patel and James are both so incredibly joyous and vibrant to watch that you can almost look past these gaping holes in their love story. Indeed, that’s true of Yesterday itself in many respects; not a perfect film by any measure, but so fun, upbeat and happy that you tend to just let it be and go along for the ride.
Musical inspired biopics may be trending, but Yesterday is able to distinguish itself from the pack with a unique premise, some heartwarming performances, a fun, nostalgic but not overly so soundtrack, and maybe a little help from its friends.