In an entertainment era riddled with nostalgia trains, music — specifically of the British flavour — has somehow been caught up in all that jazz. Biographical dramas such as Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen) and Rocketman (Elton John) have taken the love for these iconic musicians to a new level, and to sublime effect.
But what if you want to convey the same passion, but instead of going the “traditional” biographical direction, you try something a little more high-concept? That’s what Yesterday will do for the legion of fans of original boy band, The Beatles — or at least that’s what it tries to do, as it mixes the anthology of Beatles music set against a love story.
Granted, a high-concept Beatles film has already been done, with 2007’s Across the Universe, but while that movie offered a more psychedelic experience, this film is a little more grounded, and serves to celebrate the existence of The Beatles as a whole.
Set in modern times, Yesterday puts us in the shoes of a struggling musician, Jack Malik (newcomer Himash Patel who does excellent covers of Beatles tunes), who, after a freak global blackout, is the only one in the world who remembers who the Fab Four are. Jack is then put in the unique position of bringing the iconic music of the Fab Four back to relevance, except that he markets himself as the writer of these iconic tunes, to boost his own fame and fortune.
The premise of Yesterday is a really strong one, and how we get to the point where Jack realises he’s the only one to remember The Beatles, and how he deals with it, is brilliantly presented. And usually, his reaction against that of his friends’ and family’s garners quite a few laughs. The intelligent, punchy dialogue and snappy editing really ham up the comedic effect of his sudden realisation, as he learns that his family and friends suddenly don’t recognise any of the Beatles songs he plays on the guitar.
Where the comedy in Yesterday is the heart, the timeless music of The Beatles is the soul. In any film such as this, scenes that aim to recapture the magic of the music has to be done tastefully without losing the authenticity of it. Himash Patel has done so quite splendidly with his own renditions of the likes of “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “Let It Be”, “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, and the titular “Yesterday”. It’s always refreshing to hear a new take on these classic songs, especially when the one singing them has a pleasant voice. Patel’s acting may be a little questionable at times (more on that later), but if you’re watching this just for the music, then you’re getting your money’s worth.
But the one who holds the movie together is childhood friend turned manager, Ellie Appleton (Lily James). As the supportive friend, James emotes an endearing determination and we believe in Jack because she believes in him. A lesser actress might dial in the role of love interest, but James is able to showcase Appleton’s inner strength in an easily identifiable manner and the romance comes across for the better. Slightly.
One thing to note about this film is that it’s directed by Danny Boyle. For the uninitiated, Boyle is the brains behind cult classics such as Trainspotting (1996), the Academy Award-winning Slumdog Millionaire back in 2008, and 127 Hours in 2010. And with a typical Boyle movie, Yesterday checks virtually all the boxes of a Boyle affair: pastel colours, coupled with really cool, cinematic angles, and highly-stylised editing to showcase the character’s inner mental turmoil. His work is usually very stylised, and while Yesterday is a more grounded film, there are aspects of it, especially towards the latter half, that embodies his love for high-concept stuff.
But two things that Boyle is also known for that are hugely lacking in this movie are the writing and the portrayal of the lead character. Firstly, the script feels rather underdeveloped in Yesterday, specifically the romance subplot between Jack and Ellie, and also his psychological and emotional struggles with dealing with his fast-tracked fame.
While it is interesting to see Jack struggle with dealing with his rise to fame and his personal life all at the same time, it feels as though his romance with Ellie has been stretched a little too unnecessarily, to the point that it becomes a little irritating as it distracts us from the true star of the movie — the music. As much as we want to feel for Jack crumbling under the pressure of being a rising pop star, to have his romantic life shoehorned into the narrative doesn’t elevate our empathy of him.
It also doesn’t help that Patel and James don’t really have much of a chemistry to begin with, and it’s not really James’ fault. The yearning she exudes is not matched by any desire from Patel, which is a pity. Although they’re depicted as childhood friends, at times they look as though they barely know each other. We want to be invested in their relationship, but perhaps their casting just wasn’t optimal. And as a lead, Patel totally sells the lead as an average joe-type of character, but ultimately lacks enough charisma and charm to make audiences want to engage in his love life. Still, the Englishman’s killer vocals still makes for great listening throughout.
In a nutshell, Yesterday is best viewed as a homage to the brilliance of The Beatles. It is, without a doubt, an imperfect movie, especially with the gaping loopholes in scriptwriting, pacing of the story, and even casting. That said, if you choose to see past its faults, it’s still a delight to watch, and will leave you with a fuzzy feeling after the end credits roll. Oh, and Ed Sheeran makes a humourous extended guest appearance in it, playing a heightened version of himself, along with Kate McKinnon, who plays their slightly sly manager.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
While ultimately not a perfect narrative, Yesterday still manages to celebrate The Beatles and present it in a really accessible fashion to new and old fans alike. Also, humming along to the iconic tunes of the Fab Four is a big plus.
Story - 7/10
Direction - 8/10
Characterisation - 7/10
Geek Satisfaction - 9/10
User Review( votes)
Marion has a serious RPG addiction. Sometimes it bleeds into real life; he forgets to sleep because he thinks he has a Witcher’s body clock. Forgive him in advance if he suddenly blurts out terms such as “Mind Flayer” and “Magic Missile”, because never once does he stop thinking about his next Dungeons & Dragons game.