A comic book movie premise made for all-ages music fans.
After a long illustrious career with off-kilter films like Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, and 28 Days Later under his belt, it’s good to know that Danny Boyle’s directing skills aren’t dulled by time and jadedness. They can get down-to-earth with its lead character placed in extraordinary star-struck circumstances.
True, he didn’t strike gold with the Trainspotting sequel and Trance, but he can churn out a gem when he diverges away from less grimy fares and drama in an effort to keep his filmography fresh. Especially when he can tap into comic book-like plotlines involving alternate worlds and timelines, albeit in tiny portions.
His latest film for the year, Yesterday, is one such project made with rapid-fire comedy beats, lovely cinematography, and lovely renditions of popular Beatles hits done with care.
Twist & Shout
The movie centres around Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), a struggling singer who is talented but cannot make an original hit to get out of his rut. Accompanying him is his manager/friend/pining love interest archetype Ellie Appleton (Lily James) who keeps egging him to not give up on his dreams. After a worldwide 12-second phenomenon and a bike accident, Jack suddenly ends up in an alternate version of his Earth where certain brands and products like Coca-Cola doesn’t exist. Neither do The Beatles and their songs.
This means that Jack, being the only person on the planet who knows and can piece together the hits made by Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr, can play these hits to millions of people who have yet to experience these majestic iconic tunes, while also getting famous and recognition for it.
It’s a typical rags-to-riches narrative where you wonder if the heart wins out in the end over fame & fortune. Except in this weird-yet-plausible universe.
What I love about this Danny Boyle production is that it sticks to its vision, runs with its premise, and doesn’t give us a cop-out ala the “it’s all in the guy’s head” schtick. The narrative and world are set straight, filled with your usual supportive-yet-awkward parents, the well-meaning-but-bumbling friend, and the music label/corporation that watches and manages your every move represented by a bitchier-than-usual Kate McKinnon, who plays the most transparent, eerily realistic, and honest-to-a-fault music manager you’ll ever see in your lifetime. And I’ve met my share of pie slice-grubbing middlemen.
The show’s irreverent edge and the levels of unease set by Jack’s meteoric rise make the entire experience a lot fresher, yet less nihilistic like his own Trainspotting films. It’s a pity that the show’s other focal point, the “will-they-won’t-they?” romance between Jack and Ellie, is a little undercooked compared to the rest of the show.
It’s no fault of the lead actors: Patel and Lily James did their respective roles justice and their chemistry works most of the time. It’s just that the romance feels shoehorned in and feels like it’s unloading its key points like a huge carpet bomb than controlled drops.
The show’s many transitions didn’t gel well with me either, like as if Danny Boyle is trying too hard to keep with the times when simple-yet-effective messages and title cards are more prominent in the film’s third act.
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
And then there are the obvious logic holes that entail when you’re watching a film where the Beatles and Oasis don’t exist, among other things I won’t spoil here since they’re essential as lovely transition gags and punchlines. But really, I can suspend my disbelief for a film too that lets us laugh at Ed Sheeran’s tryhard persona and Patel’s outbursts and reactions towards his new lifestyle and its quirks. I could also go on about other “special appearances” at the film’s second half, but you have to see these for yourself if you’re in tune with the Fab Four.
Think of Yesterday as a musical journey of a film that makes you remember why you loved the iconic sounds and lyrical waxing of the world’s most influential band. There’s a love story shoved in here somewhere, but that’s more of a bland cherry on top of an already-packed sundae filled with nostalgia trappings, a well-told-yet-kinda-familiar tale, and lovely UK sights & sounds.