For a film featuring Britain’s greatest ever pop band, the nation’s best loved writer of romantic comedies AND the director of Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire, Yesterday is fairly uninspiring stuff. It’s certainly not bad – the production gets some mileage out of its smart premise – but it’s not particularly clever, laugh out loud funny or even romantic, for that matter.
The set up is decent. The hero, Jack Malik (an outstanding performance by newcomer Himesh Patel) is a failed singer songwriter with one too many disasterous gigs to make carrying on worth his while. After announcing his retirement to his manager and best friend Ellie (a winsome Lily James), the musician is involved in a freak accident. At the precise moment that a worldwide powercut strikes, Malek finds himself riding home through the streets of his hometown. A bus approaches and in the darkness, bike and bus collide with the would be singer losing his two front teeth. Naturally, as this is a rom-com, this provides much mirth for Malek’s otherwise concerned best friends.
As he recovers however, Malik begins to realise that the world is somehow altered. Most significantly, for Malik at least, the singer is now the only person in the world who can remember the Beatles. A quote from When I’m Sixty Four falls on death ears, his mates mistakenly believe he has written the song Yesterday, and a desperate trawl of the internet turns up beetles but not The Beatles. Realising that the group have been erased from the world’s collective consciousness, Malek quickly spots an opportunity to profit from the odd turn of events.
Weeks of desperately trying to remember song lyrics ensue, but at the end of it, Malik emerges with the basis of what might well become the world’s greatest ever album.
Patel nails the role of the erstwhile loser Jack in a role that the actor was seemingly born to play. The character mixes puppy dog looks, wit and an increasing incredulity as the nature of his odd situation is slowly revealed. Refreshingly, the script makes absolutely nothing of the character’s ethnicity or background.
Lily James is excellent too as the best friend who is desperately but not very successfully attempting to her keep feelings of love secret. However, the real surprise here is Ed Sheeran as the self confessed |”Salieri|” to Malek’s Mozart. Sheeran shines as the too cool for school rock star, effortlessly nailing the portrayal of a man who begins by believing that he is a Rock God but quickly discovers that he is a mere mortal, afterall.
The real problem with the movie is that it doesn’t quite know how to build on its clever premise. Little thought seems to have been given as to how the absence of a musical colossus like the Beatles will impact the world. Save for the absence of the Beatles inspired rock band Oasis, everything seems to be exactly the same. It feels like a massive missed opportunity as the premise is so engaging and rich with dramatic potential.
The comedy is equally absent with the script lacking the type of comic situation and character we normally associate with Richard Curtis. The movie seems to rely far too heavily on obnoxious music boss Deborah (Kate McKinnon) and waster roadie Rocky (Joel Fry) for humour and while the pair willingly oblige, they are all too often let down by the quality of the script.
A bizarre twist three quarters of the way through the story is clearly designed to propel the hero towards the inevitable conclusion however, without giving too much away, the odd development only highlights how desperate the story is for a twist or something to incite interest.
Yesterday is a perfectly serviceable rom-com but given the extraordinary talent on view, the phenomenal songbook at its mercy and the star defining turn from Patel, the movie appears like a bit of a let down.
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