Film Review: Yesterday

One of the great things about loving the work of Danny Boyle is you never know what genre is going to tackle yet. From the hard-hitting yet brilliant drama of Trainspotting, the amazing horror of 28 Days Later through to big budget sci-fi with Sunshine there seems to be nothing that the man won’t tackle. In a way Boyle taking on the job to tackle Yesterday shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise – Boyle has a sincere love for music that has been very obvious with the amazing soundtracks that have been companions to his films over the years while he has been responsible for light-hearted films like Millions and films with heart like Slumdog Millionaire.

With Yesterday Boyle is teamed up with screenwriting royalty in Richard Curtis, a man responsible for sensationally written films like Love Actually and Four Weddings And A Funeral. It is no coincidence that a lot of Curtis’ films have become fan favourites… and it wouldn’t be surprising if Yesterday doesn’t follow suit. At the heart of the film is a battler – a struggling musician called Jack Malik (Himesh Patel – EastEnders, The Aeronauts). While Jack is a brilliant song-writer his manager, who is also madly in love with him, Ellie Appleton (Lily James – Baby Driver, Cinderella), has never been able to help him hit the big time and at times he even struggles to attract audiences in the small coastal town he calls home.

Just as Jack reaches the crossroads and decides that perhaps it is time to give up on his dream of becoming a singer the universe intervenes. A worldwide blackout sees the world forget about several pop culture items – including The Beatles, but Jack hasn’t forgotten any of them. He decides to start recording The Beatles music which soon attracts the attention of chart-topping musician Ed Sheeran (himself) which in turn sees him come to the attention of Sheeran’s manager Debra Hammer (Kate McKinnon – Ghostbusters, Rough Night).

What makes Yesterday work so well is that the film is a refreshingly new idea and a film that genuinely blends genres while keeping the audience intrigued in ways you wouldn’t expect. Aside from the suspense of whether or not Jack will make it as a singer there is also romantic tension between Jack and Ellie while a huge cloud hangs over his career as there are constant hints that one of the original fab Four might suddenly come forward and say that they actually wrote the songs in the first place.

Together Boyle and Curtis jump genres throughout the film. Like many of Curtis’ films the comedy is under-written and never becomes the main focus of the film. While there are the odd light moment occurring throughout the film Curtis makes sure the screenplay never works too hard to try and achieve a laugh – the very heart of this film is a drama about a struggling musician.

While that move makes the film a joy to watch it is also the thing that exposes the films weakest link – Kate McKinnon. While watching the film it is very easy to fall in love with the performances of Patel, James and Sheeran but somehow it seems like McKinnon missed the memo that this is not supposed to be a laugh out loud comedy. Throughout the film McKinnon approaches her role of the pushy music manager the same way she would a performance on Saturday Night Live. The result is her character becomes a caricature while James, Sheeran and Patel in beautifully natural performances. Patel is so good he can only be described as one of the finds of the year and we can only hope that he gets more chances on the international stage in the future.

Yesterday is an absolute gem of a film. The warm screenplay plays right into the hands of the creative mind of Danny Boyle who brings the film to life in a way that only a true music fan could. The story itself remains intriguing and believable while still managing to pay tribute to one of the most important bands in world history. Yesterday is a must see for fans of The Beatles and for anyone that loves heart-warming films.

Written by Dave Griffiths

Dave has worked as a music & film journalist for over 20 years now. Aside from Heavy he does radio and various podcasts as well. He is the proud owner of Metal Cat.

HEAVY Magazine / DIGI-MAG Issue #83

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