Imagine there’s no Beatles.
After a mysterious and magical occurrence, a struggling musician named Jack Malik, awakens in a reality where he appears to be the only soul on Earth to remember The Beatles, alongside other various forgotten pop culture items.
Remember that time when the anonymous “James Richards” returned from a parallel universe with a so-called modern day Beatles album titled “Everyday Chemistry” (I’m not joking, look it up)? Yeah, Yesterday was kind of the romcom version of that “true” story.
A united effort between director, Danny Boyle, and writer, Richard Curtis, Yesterday was an inventive, charismatic, rather hysterical, but somewhat problematic hidden gem that certainly retained a sense of charm, through and through. Although not the perfect film, Yesterday was one of the most delightful cinema experiences I have had in 2019 with genius comedy, heartwarming romance and nostalgic tunes recalling The Beatles to such great effect. And yes, although this may have been the Beatles film, lets be honest, I mainly rocked up to the cinema for the legend himself: Richard Curtis.
Director of three of my favourite films of all time – Love, Actually, The Boat That Rocked and About Time – Curtis has always been a filmmaker who has continued to hold my attention. Creating the most Britishy British films ever made with a smattering of romance, comedy, nudity and naughty language, I don’t know what it is exactly, but Curtis’ style as a writer AND director, has allowed him to retain a consistent series of breezy, light-hearted romps that specialise in humanity at its rawest and finest. Despite not being directed by Curtis, Yesterday still managed to attain the filmmaker’s signature tone and mood, if not just through the lens of Danny Boyle – who’s also brilliant, I may add.
Boyle, the filmmaker behind Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours, Steve Jobs and T2 Trainspotting amongst others (yeah, THAT guy), has proven himself quite adequate – in fact, brilliant – at conquering every genre he has taken part in. From sci-fi to horror to biopics, you would think taking on another romcom wouldn’t be too hard for the infamously celebrated filmmaker and, of course, for Boyle, it wasn’t. Yesterday was an excellently directed film with some sweeping cinematography capturing some gorgeous scenery and landscapes. Some of the shots in this film were worthy of being framed and hung up; Yesterday was just so unapologetically warm and fuzzy like the story it attempted to tell. Although, I will say, as much as I appreciated Boyle’s keen eye, I would have personally preferred to see Curtis helm the project singlehandedly as his long-awaited return to the director’s chair. You see, this film very much suited itself to the style of Curtis over Boyle and, therefore, felt ever-so-slightly off when it leant into its more cheesy and fantastical elements.
Curtis is a master at making cheesiness cute and the supernatural normal. Take Love, Actually for example – a big bloated ensemble romcom piece set at Christmas spanning the U.K., the U.S., France and Portugal with creepy characters, seductive characters, dumb characters, naïve characters, mourning characters and many, many more, joining in for a celebration of holiday season love – a film like that just shouldn’t work… and yet, it does. With Curtis’ organic and relaxed direction, the filmmaking behind Love, Actually compliments the bombastically corny script and “makes” the film work. And how about About Time – a film that conceptually relies on the hugely supernatural element of time travel – you would think the time travel element would be the centre of the piece right? Well, no. Curtis’ direction lends itself to the script in focusing solely on the love story at the film’s centre rather than the time travel element that just, more-or-less, helps the plot along. With Curtis, cheesiness is what makes his films loveable and the supernatural elements are the tools used purely for the story to get from A to B. What I’m trying to get at here is that some stories require their original creator to visualise it and, as much as I love Boyle, Yesterday was very much a Curtis film in need of Curtis to helm it. Sometimes the best way for a filmmaker to translate their own idea is to do it themselves and I honestly think Yesterday would have worked better entirely as Curtis production.
My problem with Yesterday was that it felt a little messy and unfocused. I found myself debating where the plot of the film was going sometimes and if most of the scenes in the movie were even necessary. Granted in all three of Curtis’ films, usually the same problem arises with the fact the stories are a little messy and there’s no real distilled passage to any of their conclusions. Take The Boat That Rocked for an example – a film about literally nothing but pirate radio presenters hanging out and listening to The Kinks – it shouldn’t have worked for how clustered the “story” was and how little focus the narrative employed. But the thing is, the film did work. It worked because Curtis not only understands how to write a series of relatable, joyous, humanly slice-of-life events but also knows how to visualise that carefree attention to organic storytelling… in fact, its not even really storytelling. I don’t know if this is a term, but what Curtis does well is “character-telling”. His films are stories that don’t follow an exact structure or trifling of events, but instead more an introspective on a random person’s life. The character for Curtis is the story and I feel Yesterday very much sat in the same bracket, writing wise, but in its total visualisation… it just fell a little out of frame.
The film certainly needed a touch more from Curtis, further than just his work on the script. Don’t get me wrong, Boyle is an amazing filmmaker and his direction for Yesterday was great… but it wasn’t Curtis’ direction and Yesterday needed Curtis’ direction.
Despite that though, I still had a whale of a time watching Yesterday. Trust me, I only had that little rant because, truly, I care and its films like Yesterday for which I genuinely want to see succeed above all else. Yesterday had a kind heart. It was light and fun entertainment with an adorable love story at its heart and originality brimming from its surface. Yesterday was exactly the kind of film I usually fall in love with and buy on DVD to watch multiple times with popcorn and tissues. That’s why I care so much about the little insignificant problems like directing choices and such… because I want to be able to say I love films like this.
If anything, the cast really sold Yesterday to me. From the breakout lead performance of Himesh Patel to the cutesy and adorable girl-next-door Lily James performance (seriously, she’s awesome), I was wrapped up in Yesterday‘s characters, mainly because the cast portrayed them all too well. I’m quite a big fan of Ed Sheeran and hence was utterly surprised with how much of a role the guy received in Yesterday portraying himself. And yeah, the film didn’t need to use Sheeran as much as it did, but the fact is, he was really quite charming and delightful in Yesterday through and through. There was also a rather comical supporting performance from Joel Fry that really worked in giving the film bonus levity; plus, in a secret role I won’t reveal, Robert Carlyle was excellent in the film and maybe gave me my favourite scene in the entire film. I will say though that I wasn’t a massive fan of Kate McKinnon in Yesterday. McKinnon felt a little overexaggerated in her role whilst her general humour just didn’t entirely fit the rest of the comedy in Yesterday; again, I really like McKinnon but her role in this movie just felt like a caricature looking big and dumb against the film’s realer, more human array of characters.
I would like to again highlight the bright and fun tone of Yesterday. The film was really breezy and kept me laughing from start to finish. I cannot at all say I had a bad time with Yesterday because the pure fact is I didn’t; I massively had a good time with this fantastical romcom.
I loved the film’s acknowledgment of pop culture outside of just The Beatles, like Coca-Cola, Harry Potter and Oasis which all helped in grounding the film in a more firmer, relatable reality. The pure genius of the Yesterday‘s “what if” concept concerning the disappearance of The Beatles allowed for some great sequences to play in ode and respect to the much celebrated band’s work. Operating almost as a pseudo-Beatles musical with loveable sequences involving “Hey Jude”, “The Long and Winding Road”, “Yellow Submarine” and, of course, the best of the bunch “Eleanor Rigby”, Yesterday worked better as a Beatles film than any biopic ever could. Completely and utterly respecting the band whilst fleshing out some of their best lyrics and appreciating the impact their art has left on the world, Yesterday played as a fantasy film for Beatles fans to unapologetically fall head over heels for… you know, apart from the fact the film forgot all about “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “Twist and Shout”, their three best songs (then again, the film was so fun that you wouldn’t even notice the absence of a few of their greatest hits).
Ultimately, I had a positive experience with Yesterday over negative. I still do think that the movie would have found a better understanding of itself if Curtis had directed the film in unison with writing, but then again Boyle’s a genius filmmaker for a reason and Yesterday still managed to deliver highly. I wouldn’t hesitate in giving Yesterday a big thumbs up, purely for its enjoyment value and how respectful and gorgeous it decided to represent The Beatles. Its true, you can’t buy me love, but you can write it, direct it and produce it for me in a little bundle of film reel joy.
Yesterday is a bloody… CRUSADE!!
- Empire Design 2019, Yesterday (2019), IMP Awards, TMDb, viewed 30 June 2019, <http://www.impawards.com/intl/uk/2019/yesterday_ver2.html> (Featured Image)
- Robertson, A 2019, Yesterday imagines a world without the Beatles – but can’t decide whether they mattered, The Verge, Vox Media Inc., viewed 30 June 2019, <https://www.theverge.com/2019/5/7/18531069/yesterday-film-review-beatles-danny-boyle-lily-james-kate-mckinnon-ed-sheeran-tribeca-2019>