It seems that Richard Curtis has found his second calling after his retirement from directing several years ago: writing and producing musical movies based on classic pop bands. Prior to writing/producing Yesterday, the Notting Hill, Love Actually, and About Time writer/director did something very similar with Mamma Mia‘s sequel last summer, which was among my favorite theatrical experiences I had last year. Add Oscar winning director Danny Boyle and the luminescent Lily James to the mix and it seemed that Yesterday was for certain going to be a success.
But the real reason that so many want to see the film is because of its absolutely brilliant premise: Jack Malik (played by newcomer Himesh Patel) is a struggling singer-songwriter in a British small town whose dreams of fame are rapidly fading, despite the fierce devotion and support of his childhood best friend, Ellie (Lily James). After a freak accident of getting hit by a bus while biking at night during a similarly freakish global blackout, Jack wakes up to discover that The Beatles have never existed. He then makes the decision to record their songs as his own and gains global popularity as a result.
I am completely convinced that The Beatles are the greatest band of all time, or at least the great pop band. And their music is really the film’s greatest strength. However, as we discovered from 2007’s exceedingly mediocre Across the Universe, just adding their music to a film on its own won’t make it great. Thankfully, Danny Boyle’s direction and Himesh Patel’s performance/voice as well as really remarkable recordings of the Fab Four’s songs are enough to make this movie a fun, pleasurable experience.
Himesh Patel does a really fantastic job leading this film. He is amazingly likable and a legitimately great musician in his own right, which really sells his performance. Lily James is somewhat unrecognizable because of her hair color and her overall look; more mousy than her usual blonde bombshell. However, she still brings her charm and presence that helps the audience fall in love with her even more.
The musical numbers in this movie really are what make it so watchable. It’s easy to wonder what it would have been like to be there when your favorite band or movie debuted, and the twist on that concept that this film explores makes it even more fun.
As teased in the trailer, Ed Sheeran shows up as his awkward self in the movie. He isn’t a great actor and I rarely buy his stilted performance, which jolted me out of the experience a number of times. Another odd bit is that all American characters we meet, including Kate McKinnon, are quite one dimensional. They are all terrible, greedy capitalists who have no other motive than the bottom line. And honestly, all of their lines are so on the nose with this characterization that it was a bit cringe-worthy.
The last bit of criticism I have is that the film’s climax doesn’t land and feels a bit forced. The script really should be better than it is, especially from the likes of Curtis and Boyle.
Now, don’t let these criticisms lead you to believe that I have a bad opinion of the film, because I don’t. Sure, it could have been better, but make no mistake: this is a really fun movie that is VERY worth your time and money to see it in the theater.
Yesterday is a really fun film that works quite well, despite a weak script. The songs as well as the great direction and performances make this an amazingly watchable motion picture.