A film like this makes you wonder how it never got made up till now.
Joining a long list of inoffensively entertaining Sydney Film Festival Closing Night flicks, yesterday Yesterday answered the question of just what Richard Curtis has been doing for the past few months.
Aspiring musician and everyman Jack (of course he’s named Jack), played by Himesh Patel, cruises between Suffolk gigs to diminishing returns. His long-time manager, an effervescent, endlessly-charming Lily James (where is this going you ask?) backs him to the hilt, until a world-wide blackout/car accident somehow means that Jack alone has any memory of The Beatles.
Struck with John, Paul, George and Ringo’s inspiration, Yesterday asks, given the chance, who wouldn’t pass off Let It Be as their own and propel themselves into superstardom?
If you can figure out where this romcom is going from this description (you can figure out where this romcom is going from this description) then Yesterday will bear absolutely no surprises for you. Unabashedly and uncommonly formulaic and surprisingly so for having Danny Boyle at the helm no less, Yesterday neither has any of the Director’s trademark visual flourishes, save some marvellous backward tracking shots as Jack and best mate Rocky (Joel Fry) race about Liverpool.
To this feature’s discredit the filmmakers have strangely left Yesterday bereft of any real conflict, plot or character development (save of course what is fairly an original premise) beyond that bare and blatantly generic. That which eventuated as a dream sequence being widely promoted as a semblance of real stakes (and it being but a dream itself) are both pretty cheap ploys. If the idea is to get people in the door and toe-tapping then it will probably work, but unlike the Mamma Mia films, which had much better through lines, those involved shouldn’t think for a second that anyone is coming back for more.
We are nonetheless treated to some supremely fun world-building as it becomes apparent that there’s a lot more missing across this universe; it’s one thing to be without The Beatles, but no Coke?! There’s a hilarious dig at Oasis and, in what is probably the only subtle addition to this entire movie, a wry visual reference to Stanley Kubrick never having existed.
The Liverpool troupe are pretty much the only act you could build this sort of flick around in its chosen era; you could do it with Bowie and fairly Dylan, though the latter would be a very different film. Salivating in the cavalcade of Beatles Number Ones that rarely get played on screen for how expensive the rights are, amid such a jukebox you’ll barely notice the absence of some of the band’s most famous numbers (From Me To You, Come Together, Day Tripper, among many).
Having said this, Yesterday regretfully focuses on the most recognisable Beatles numbers (a crowd-pleasing film if any) with sparing references or airtime given to some of the more obscure tunes much beloved by those most dedicated followers. A creative approach that would fairly have drawn the ire of the faithful too replicated in Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody (how Innuendo was so short-changed I’ll never know), there are only two additions from say The White Album (with a great gag about how the title doesn’t promote diversity) and but one from the likes of Rubber Soul.
On this matter, as Ed Sheeran points out not sure how playing Back in the U.S.S.R. would go down before a twenty-something modern Moscow crowd who’ve never heard it before, but hey the ‘R’ stands for Russia, right?
And yes, that Ed Sheeran. He’s in this and it’s nice to see that Ed has the integrity of spirit to have a few digs at himself, while Boyle (still not sure why he’s on board) never misses the opportunity to land a fair few laughs at his expense.
Patel is, well, he’s fine. He’s a decent singer and a talented comedic performer whose limits here if anything emphasise that so universally beloved in the Beatles’ output. Kate McKinnon flounders in the first half with generic lousy manager material not suited to the breadth of her talents; eclipsing her co-stars in the latter segments (even with bare screen time) as she and the script lean into her distinct, eclectic comic and slapstick sensibilities. What she can manage with a simple contortion of her face is not near matched in its quality by any performer here, save James.
Thank God she decided to jump on board for whole stretches could have been boring and trite without her trademark charm and the relatable emotion she invests in successive sequences. Turning what in the hands of another performer could simply have been winsome, forgettable vignettes into poignant encounters, her shouting “not all the crisps” is funnier than every well planned, pop-culture heavy reference herein.
And on James, that the talented singer was permitted but one backing vocals is an absolute disgrace and Yesterday’s biggest missed opportunity.
Something (see what I did there) that will prove fun for casual Beatles fans (this author among them) but likely frustrating at times for the more dedicated, save a later segment where Boyle elegantly and welcomely celebrates the band’s actual origins, the best thing about this film is still finding myself listening to ‘In My Life,’ now Yesterday seems so far away.
Yesterday screened as part of the Sydney Film Festival and will be in cinemas from 27 June