Starring: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Kate McKinnon
Director: Danny Boyle
Running Time: 116 mins
Yesterday is a British film about a struggling musician who finds himself waking up after an accident in a world where The Beatles never existed. Taking the opportunity, he soon performs the legendary band’s music as his own, and rises to become the world’s greatest musician.
Ah, screenwriter Richard Curtis, the man who’s made so many romantic comedies with real charm and wit, but some of the most unbearably cheesy story lines ever put to screen. There’s no doubting his writing talent, both from his most famous films as well as a number of very funny TV shows, but I’ve never been one to fall in love with his original brand of soppy, love-conquers-all-so-run-to-the-airport-or-climb-up-a-ladder-to-get-the-girl romantic comedies.
With that said, much like his previous film About Time, he takes a slightly more left-field and playful approach to the genre with Yesterday, throwing in an element of fantasy and secondary intrigue beyond the simple and rather painful story about the beauty of love, making for a genuinely entertaining and likable, if not admittedly simplistic movie.
In the end, though, isn’t that just what you want? A nice, easy romantic comedy to make your heart sing? Well, sometimes, but you need a little more than just awkward meet-cutes and grand romantic gestures to make for an engaging movie, and that’s what makes Yesterday stand out strongly against the likes of Four Weddings And A Funeral, Notting Hill and Love Actually.
Telling the story of a man who finds fame and fortune by playing the songs of The Beatles in a world where the band is wiped from history, the movie plays nicely on the tropes of a music biopic, while bringing in that good bit of fantasy to let you know that it’s not taking things too seriously, with a similarly anarchic approach to About Time in changing up what’s viewed as the generic rom-com formula.
So, right from the start, you know that you’re not in the soppy loveboat of some of Curtis’ earlier movies, and while Yesterday of course features a heap of romantic drama, it’s far from the main focus of the movie, meaning that all can enjoy – no matter what your view on the romantic comedy.
And that’s where you find that there’s so much to love about Yesterday. If you’re a music fan, the film has got a great collection of Beatles songs to tap your toes along to (although without the same passion as Across The Universe – a more powerful Beatles jukebox musical). If you like the music biopic, the rise of Jack Malik to stardom from nothingness has all the key ingredients that make up the likes of A Star Is Born. And if you like good, easy and cute humour, then Yesterday has just that in bucketloads.
In line with the anarchic presence of its fantasy premise – The Beatles having been wiped from the world – Yesterday works well as what is in my view Curtis’ funniest big screen venture. Not only adding to the fun of a global memory wipe with a number of well-timed and very funny extra gags, but also featuring likable wit throughout that fits well with the film’s more reserved and timid characters. It’s not riotous, laugh-out-loud stuff from beginning to end, but it is easy-going and certainly funny humour throughout, which was more than enough to make me smile right the way through.
Now, when it comes to the romantic side of things, Yesterday isn’t quite as strong or immensely likable. Again, it’s not anywhere near as soppy as the likes of Love Actually, but that doesn’t mean it escapes from one of my biggest qualms with Curtis’ brand of on-screen romance: that everything feels too easy.
Sure, there are ups and downs in the relationship, and not everything goes right every time they meet, but the way that the romance between Lily James and Himesh Patel’s characters develops is just annoyingly simple, and once again lacks any sort of real, engaging emotional turmoil that’s the hallmark of cinema’s best romances.
I won’t deny that the movie is enjoyable romantic, and the chemistry between Patel and James (who puts in yet another top-quality performance in an often middling movie) is a lot of fun to watch throughout. However, in the middle of the musical side of the story that features so many more obstacles and difficulties, the way that the two’s romance unfolds just seems so ludicrously easy and without incident, which takes away hugely from the endearing potential of it all.
Overall, then, I had a good bit of fun with Yesterday. It’s not the perfect movie, and it’s far from my favourite romantic film of all, but thanks to its strong sense of humour, likable characters and wit, anarchic premise and fun fantasy, there really is a lot to enjoy with Yesterday, impressing over the more frustratingly generic and simplistic romantic fare that it has to offer throughout, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.5.