Written by Richard Curtis (Notting Hill, Love Actually, About Time)
Starring Hamish Patel, Lily James, Kate McKinnon
Richard Curtis is a master of guilty-pleasure cinema. Anybody acquainted with his work will know what to expect: fairytale logic, charming comedy, and a warm, fuzzy romance that dissolves the dark and horrible world.
His new film Yesterday achieves the same, but with a bizarre nuance: Danny Boyle is directing. The man behind such harrowing and stylistic character-dramas, like Trainspotting and 127 Hours, tackles a Richard Curtis rom-com. Say what?
Jack Malik (Hamish Patel) becomes the only man on Earth to have heard The Beatles
The whole world loses electricity for 12 seconds, which means, for some reason, that The Beatles have vanished from history. Only a struggling musician, Jack Malik, remembers their songs. He sees an opportunity for fame and wealth: pretending that he’s the mind behind some of the greatest hits of all time.
Fairytale circumstance: check. The heartfelt romance comes from school teacher Ellie, played by Lily James, who acts as Jack's manager and secretly harbours a deep affection for him. It’s an overdone tale of unrequited love, but one that's strangely engaging when led by James. She, like a lot of her recent roles, gives a sad and aching performance deserving of a much better movie.
Lily James gives a sad, aching performance as Ellie
The comedy fires thick and quick, hoping something'll stick. Curtis spreads his textbook charm, but the jokes are rather hit-and-miss – often hinging on the laboured fantasy that no one's heard a single Beatles song. Himesh Patel, playing Jack, does his best - but his comedic talents, as seen in the tragicomedy series Damned, are wasted.
Saturday Night Live star Kate McKinnon (The Spy Who Dumped Me) enters just in time, delivering an hilarious performance as Jack’s new L.A.-based manager – capturing all the absurd features of Hollywood artifice. But even she, eventually, dries up.
Kate McKinnon enters just in time
And yet, as with most Richard Curtis scripts, there’s something so infectiously lovely about Yesterday. It’s comfy and entertaining, a film to relax with on a lazy afternoon.
The adoration for The Beatles, clearly shared by Boyle, coats every scene. As Jack gets more famous, he perfects the songs in studio rooms - making sure every beat and strum and ridiculous noise is cherished. These moments joyfully examine the power behind the music, the notes inside the masterpieces, like a deconstructive music documentary.
The faults are difficult to ignore, the list being as long as Hey Jude. The main problem is that Curtis and Boyle rarely sync with each other’s styles, and often make awkward collisions. Simple dialogue scenes are pepped up with slanted angles, vivid colours, and enormous set pieces that don't feel right. It’s clear Curtis wants an unfussy fairytale, but Boyle’s eager for a stylish rollercoaster.
But Yesterday has its moments, and, despite being one of Boyle’s worst films, it’s nice to watch him have fun.
28 Jun 19 – 28 Jun 20, Times vary
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