Yesterday features the dream team pairing of writer Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Four Weddings & a Funeral, About Time) and Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, The Beach, Slumdog Millionaire). The trailer promised a feel-good rom-com – a genre that we Brits love to make, and especially in the case of Curtis, know how to deliver very successfully. Yesterday is an undeniably enjoyable piece of escapist fun, but there’s something lacking here that denies it a full win.
The plot involves a strange blackout that engulfs the world for a few moments. When it ends, it seems that young (failing) singer/songwriter Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is the only person who knows who The Beatles are. After frantic searching of Google to no avail, it seems like Jack has a free pass to record all of The Beatles back-catalogue as if it they were his own. His life-long friend, manager (and secret admirer from afar) Ellie (Lily James) sees Jack slowly turn into the biggest music act in the world, but can Jack keep the charade going?
If you’re a cynic, you need not apply here, because it’s all about the set-up, not the why’s and wherefores. You’ll get no explanation to why the ‘event’ occurs, but instead we get to revel in the fun of Jack’s unusual predicament. And fun it is, thanks largely to Himesh Patel’s great leading performance. As a British Asian, it’s also great to see a leading role that doesn’t hinge on typical Indian stereotypes – something that’s bizarrely still so widespread in this industry. Jack is just a well-fleshed out character and his parents (played equally well by Meera Syal and Sanjeev Bhaskar) are just his parents – all without a corner shop, heightened accents or an arranged marriage in sight. It was a delightful breath of fresh air for me.
Lily James can play the object of most people’s affections very well, and she does well as the good-natured Ellie. The reconnection scene between her and Jack over one night is a particular highlight, with both performers doing their roles justice. Ed Sheeran appears in the film a lot more than I expected. This is no Bridget Jones cameo – he’s quite a pivotal character and there are times when he’s noticeably out of his depth, especially with the delivery of some of comedy. Perhaps best stick to the tunes Ed. The supporting cast are all solid, with Kate McKinnon catching attention as Jack’s new loud, brash American agent. Joel Fry is on-hand for some great comic relief as Jack’s hapless right hand man.
I’m a huge Richard Curtis fan so I was slightly disappointed to find the film doesn’t seize every opportunity to really drive home the relationship between Jack and Ellie. It’s unusual actually, especially given his track record for making some of the most involving and resonant films in the genre. Yesterday seems to be moving at too frantic a pace to really extract the most emotional pull from its premise, and that was a shame to see. Danny Boyle also has a very distinct eye for direction. It works well for things like Trainspotting but I feel the conventional rom-com isn’t his natural forte.
Yesterday utilises some wonderful locations to paint a gorgeous-looking rom-com that is perfect for the summer months. Coupled with the incredible selection of toe-tapping Beatles hits, the film does the basics just right to deliver a very enjoyable and heart-warming tale that will have you clamouring to re-listen to The Beatles back-catalogue once again. And it’s worth the admission price alone for one of the final scenes where Jack goes to get some advice on life. I just felt that with such a great premise, the film could have aimed a little higher in terms of the narrative. Yesterday could have been a rom-com classic, but instead it’s just an enjoyable fable that won’t be remembered for too long afterwards, and that’s a shame.
Cast: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Joel Fry, Meera Syal, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Ed Sheeran, Kate McKinnon, Justin Edwards, Karl Theobald, Alexander Arnold, Dominic Coleman, Sarah Lancashire, Sophia Di Martino, Ellise Chappell, Harry Michell, Vincent Franklin, Michael Kiwanuka Director: Danny Boyle Writer: Richard Curtis, Jack Barth Certificate: 12A Duration: 116mins Released by: Universal Release date: 28th June 2019