YESTERDAY IS DANNY Boyle’s loving homage to the glorious brilliance of the Beatles. You can almost hear Boyle’s summons, “Hear ye, hear ye; come all ye too young to know and all ye who have forgotten and all ye still enraptured by them; come ye all and be reminded of the genius of John, Paul, George and Ringo”. And no movie that centers around The Long and Winding Road, Eleanor Rigby, Here Comes the Sun, Yesterday, Hey Jude, Help, Back in the USSR, and on and on, can be anything less than uplifting.
The story focuses on Jack Malik (Hamish Patel from the TV series East Enders), a charmless, failed songwriter and his adoring manager/friend, Ellie Appleton (Lily James: Mama Mia! Here We Go Again, Baby Driver). Their lives of humdrum ordinariness are upended when one night an unexplained worldwide blackout results in him being knocked off his bike even as the world shifted imperceptibly… to a place where the Beatles (along with Coke and cigarettes…go figure) never existed. Only Jack remembers them. And as he covers their music to an appreciative amnesiac world, his life shifts from that of an impoverished nerdy wannabe singer playing to near empty halls of indifferent people to that of pop god.
It’s a rom com story from Richard Curtis (Mama Mia; Here We Go Again, Notting Hill, Love Actually); which makes it thought-free, doltishly obvious (Quite frankly, no heterosexual male with a beating heart can be as oblivious of Ellie’s attractiveness as Jack claims to be) and as light-weight as an airborne butterfly. There’s a spark of an idea that (perhaps unwittingly?) escaped the summer lightness, when the -unanswered- question is posed: “Would the world be a lesser place without the Beatles [Shakespeare…Elliot…da Vinci etc]?”.
There are a few nice touches though: Jack is introduced via a gormless Ed Sheeran (whose acting style is as amateurish as Jack’s singing voice) to the appropriately named, Debra Hammer (a scene stealing Kate McKinnon of Saturday Night Live fame), who got all the best lines. She’s the uber aggressive talent manager for whom Jack is simply a product to be reshaped and marketed (Jack’s suggestions for his first break-out album – The White album or Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band – are all politely turned down in favour of a more marketing savvy title).
And Jack, who would typically be White, is Indian with a Black bff (Joel Fry of You Me and the Apocalypse). It’s a nicely bold choice on Boyle’s part. For Danny Boyle is nothing if not diversity sensitive, as his big 2012 Olympic ceremony demonstrated.
But, essentially, this is a movie that eschews complexity. It feels disappointing and slightly unrewarding as a result. It’s fun, but you leave wishing there was more substance to nourish the spirit.
Listen, wanna know a secret? Yesterday is not much more than Mama Mia for the Fab Four. “Here we go again, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah”.
YESTERDAY. Dir: Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting). Writers: story: Jack Barth; screenplay: Richard Curtis. With: Hamish Patel, Lily James, Meera Syal (Paddington 2), Joel Fry, Sanjeev Bhaskar (Unforgotten). Cinematographer: Christopher Ross (Terminal). Composer: Daniel Pemberton (Venom)