FILM REVIEW: "Yesterday" forgets itself
Living in a world in which The Beatles never existed is impossible to imagine. Not in the sense that the world would be some horrid, piss-soaked hellhole without them, but because their continuing influence on how music is made (and on the wider culture) is incalculable.
Nevertheless, writer Richard Curtis and director Danny Boyle take a swing at this scenario. A down-on-his-luck musician (Himesh Patel), whose only fan is his manager (Lily James), wakes up (to his amiably funny incredulity,) in a world in which he’s the only one who remembers The Beatles. He’s a skilled enough musician and a devoted enough Beatles fanboy that he can replicate all their songs and achieve fame and fortune overnight. But, ah, the success is not really his, is it? So, conflict and whatnot. But only a little conflict. Mainly this premise is used to the effect of squeezing out easy jokes.
Yesterday has the pleasant vibe of a genial rom-com. There are even bursts of genuinely funny moments. But there’s all sorts of things that drag it down. In particular, Boyle’s direction, which is usually so adventurous and empathetic is (barring one or two scenes,) as lumpy as bad porridge. He’s chained to the maudlin material and seems uninterested in doing much beyond competently hitting the beats. The biggest casualty of this is that there’s no change in mood to the film to distinguish between pre-fame and post-fame: it’s phony when he’s a struggling, working-class musician in England, and it’s phony when he’s a big shot in LA who rubs shoulders with the likes of Ed Sheeran.
There’s some serious miscasting here too. Kate McKinnon desperately tries to bring the spark with her role as the dead-eyed corporate exec molding Patel’s pop star. But, much like in Ghostbusters, she’s strange in a humourless sort of way. Ed Sheeran as the semi-supportive rival proves a misjudged bit of comedy; a joke that’s stretched out for far too long and eats up a surprising number of scenes.
The worst of it, though, might be the casting of Lily James. Gorgeous by any measure and brimming with appeal and friendly charm, she’s meant to be the meek and mousy girl-next-door type who’s completely overlooked by our schlubby protagonist. It’s so disingenuous that it’s difficult to stifle a snort of disbelief when she wonders aloud to him why she isn’t the object of his love songs.
There’s something smarmy about the leads’ courtship, particularly in the way Yesterday lazily insists upon its poignancy. You know something about it has gone wrong when one of their big romantic scenes is upstaged by the Funny Best Friend. The ‘rom’ half of this rom-com is unconvincing. In the end, we can hear “love is all you need, all you need is love” (or some variation thereof) throughout Yesterday, but it’ll never amount to anything more than a pretty bit of karaoke.
2 Stars out of 5