Set in a bizarre Curtis-ian world without The Beatles, Yesterday is surprisingly simplistic, albeit bittersweet.
Richard Curtis is back with another love story set in a bizarre world—a premise he adeptly develops in About Time, a rom-com set where the male heirs of Bill Nighy’s family is able to time travel. Yesterday, helmed by Danny Boyle, sets in a peculiar world where The Beatles never exists. Given Boyle’s reputation in crafting dreamlike stories, Yesterday should at least be trippy, but it’s not. It’s after all a sweet romance movie, nothing more.
The romance revolves around Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), a school teacher with an obsession to become musician—aimed with his darling song, “The Summer Song”. With the help of his long-time friend slash only fan slash manager slash road manager, Ellie (Lily James), Jack struggles to score himself small gigs. After some disastrous night, the whole world goes into a mysterious black out (a scene which Boyle handles exquisitely); at the same time, Jack also blacks out after getting hit by bus. Awaken from the black out, Jack soon learns that he might be the only person to remember The Beatles. That’s where he realizes that his musical career is given a second chance as if a cheat code has been activated.
Curtis has done this before with About Time, a story about love and second chance. Yesterday might share similar trope but it manages to device a completely different conflict. When given a second chance to chase the dream, the protagonist is faced with dire options to go after the passion and the fame or to stay chasing the one he actually loves. Curtis’ script drags a little too long in the build-up of the familiar conflict; the thing is, romance isn’t Boyle’s strongest suit, therefore, the long, dragging development feels a little superfluous.
Boyle enjoys his tenure rendering the musical moments where Jack tries to exploit the fact that the world has lost The Beatles in overnight. The use of stock music might not be as spectacle-heavy as Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody; but, the music itself has a more meaningful sense of reason in Yesterday. Boyle treats Beatles’ songs like some psycho-altering drugs for Jack; it’s as if Boyle recreates Trainspotting with a different recipe. Same as Ewan McGregor will sink into the toilet, Patel’s Jack will go all the way down from LA to Liverpool only to bend his mind finding the one he craves.
During the depart from the romance main course, Curtis and Boyle will go down making serious criticism of music industry, involving the movie’s best elements: the supporting roles. Ed Sheeran will become an integral part of the movie in a self-mocking performance as himself. Kate McKinnon (Ghostbusters) is excellent as the greed manager with obsession to buy all the beachfront residences in Malibu; same goes Joel Fry’s roadie characters whose career skyrockets even after Michael Kiwanuka fires him. Game Night‘s Lamorne Morris makes a brief yet enticing role as a tongue-to-cheek marketing head.
With enticing roster of supporting roles along with newly rendered Beatles songs, Yesterday can still become sweet even when Patel and James’ chemistry isn’t quite glowing—thanks to the prolonged detour. There’s a whole lot of potentials to dig given the premise, but Curtis and Boyle choose not to. Consequently, the story about career and love with the world without The Beatles (and without some other things actually, but Beatles possibly is the most crucial to the plot) as the background is surprisingly simple.