Director: Danny Boyle
Perfect World Pictures/Working Title Pictures/Decibel Films / Universal Pictures
So, here’s the set-up – an earnest young singer/songwriter named Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is struggling to get anywhere and the only one that believes in him still is his friend and manager Ellie (Lily James). She’s been a fan since she saw him sing Wonderwall at school – they’re in love with each other too, something everyone knows except them. (Yawn!)
One night during a freak blackout Jack is hit by a bus. When he comes to and is discharged from the hospital he plays a snippet of a Beatles song on a guitar and no one recognises it. His friends congratulate him for writing a beautiful song, one of his best.
The Beatles no longer exist. Google them and you get the bug with the different (proper) spelling. Google Sgt Pepper and you just get variations around pepper. (In one of the only good gags in the film Oasis also doesn’t exist).
So that’s the premise. And that is all this film is. A premise. An elevator pitch that very quickly goes down before you can even say Ed Sheeran.
Yep, Sheeran’s here in full ginger wool as himself. He’s amazed by Malik’s talent but slightly intrigued by his back-catalogue of hit-material. They tour together and in the film’s only other good gag Sheeran’s cell-phone ring is one of is own hit songs. But that sort of celebrity-sending-themselves-up bait is a given.
Yesterday so brutally misunderstands the appeal of the band – in suggesting an alternate reality where the songs would (or wouldn’t?) be hits if introduced by a singer of any other name – as to be insulting if it wasn’t simply so stupid.
The Beatles’ music was secondary. At least in the beginning. In an era where people were barely cheeky, let alone talented here were four guys that showed effortless charisma and personality and then there was the fact that they had written the tunes. Top pop songs quickly started to tumble from their pens and then out from the stages around the world, so the music wasn’t secondary for long at all. But it’s a crucial misstep to think that you could cast these songs with so many dated images and references into the future ignoring any back-story at all.
There are many other crimes here – including the lazy trope of the manager that doesn’t know where the stage is as her giant stadium-act is playing to thousands.
Also Kate McKinnon’s wide-eyed wild energy has never really fit on the big screen – oddly. She’s better contained on the small screen (SNL) and here though she enjoys herself as a bully-manager, all passive-aggression and jadedness without actually knowing anything it’s a two-dimensional character.
In fact the whole film sits flat.
No surprise really. This is Richard Curtis after all. Lazy hack.
Obviously both Curtis and Danny Boyle have done some exceptional work in their careers – but ‘some exceptional’ is no guarantee of quality. In fact the tagline that this film has been brought you by the makers of Love Actually and Slumdog Millionaire is actually fair warning of the content you are going to receive.
As someone mentioned to me recently – this film was basically covered in about three minutes in 1985 when Michael J. Fox’s character in Back To The Future played some Chuck Berry and duck-walked and nobody in that early 1950s crowd recognised the song or style.
So somewhere in here they shoehorn in a bit about imposter syndrome, there’s nearly a great comment on the herd-mentality of today where a crowd boos the star for admitting guilt, then cheers jubilantly when told all the music will be available to download for free. But I’m not about to let a film this shit, this tired, this fucking oddly constructed off the hook. It’s got that same shitty slow-burn torture rom-com desire in a depressing setting as Love, Actually. And that’s reason enough to hate the shit out of it. But Boyle and Curtis give us many more reasons than just that.
Yesterday asks you to go on a giant leap of faith with it – for reasons the filmmakers are never quite sure about. Which makes for a convoluted mess of a film. That many will say thinks like ‘I just enjoyed it while it was on’ means these fuckers have their audience pegged.
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