Film Critic Grace Baxendine finds enjoyment in Yesterday’s use of The Beatles, but finds it doesn’t live up to the usual standards of director Danny Boyle
Perhaps after the flux of intense portraits of musical legends such as Freddie Mercury and Elton John, the up-coming biopic Stardust chronicling the rise and fall of Bowie and the insanely destructive journey of Mötley Crüe in The Dirt, it was time to tackle the musical giants themselves: The Beatles. Being undoubtedly such an important part of musical history, everybody on earth has heard or recognises tracks by The Beatles and they have influenced the world of music in more ways than one. However, Yesterday, Danny Boyle’s latest unconventional movie, has not quite lived up to my expectations, nor the memory of The Beatles.
Yesterday‘s premise is unlike so many of the very intimate biopics of musical legends in recent years. According to Boyle, the idea of the Beatles being completely erased from the world’s consciousness instantly appealed to Paul McCarthy and Ringo Starr; they had no issues with Boyle’s hypothetical concept and gave it their blessing. After the likes of Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire, we are very used to seeing raw reflections of mankind. Though a little less gritty and intense, Yesterday does still try to deliver quite a nice portrait of love and the human spirit – though not quite as successfully as Boyle’s earlier masterpieces.
Jack (Himesh Patel) is a struggling singer-songwriter on the brink of giving up on his dream of performing, until a worldwide blackout leaves him waking up to a world in which he is the only soul on the planet who has any recollection of The Beatles. He begins to recite tracks and is quickly scouted as the newest musical genius becoming globally famous. This initial fame is fantastic until his conscious and relationship with his best friend (Lily James) is tested – Jack’s greatest realisation is her love for him. This heart-warming storyline is the basis for Jack reevaluating his newly found fame and whether it’s all worth it, but this relationship development is admittedly rather obvious. It is, of course, nice and easy to watch, but rather … predictable.
The highlights of the film are undoubtedly the performances, and Patel’s in particular. Danny Boyle has said that Patel’s spirit and soul while singing was the very reason why he cast him in the first place, but however wonderful these covers are, they do still seem a little wrongly placed within the context of a world unknowing of the Beatles. Watching people go crazy for ‘Let it Be’ and ‘Hey Jude’ in 2019 just doesn’t quite work for me – maybe this is simply as we all know of The Beatles’ musical prominence in the sixties and seventies, but something just doesn’t quite work. Nonetheless, Patel is a fantastic musician and all of the performances we see in the film were recorded live, with no voice tampering or his guitar and piano playing: it’s all very real, which is a welcomed change to many films which simply record over miming actors. Danny Boyle said in an interview recently that there was no question of casting the lead once they had met with Patel: ‘you can’t force spirit’ he said, and ‘Himesh had it straight away.’ Ed Sheeran joins the cast, and surprisingly is quite a competent actor. Likewise, an interview after Jack’s success is hosted by James Corden on his chat show. Corden, already established as a successful comedic talent in films such as Into the Woods, is a refreshing surprise to pop up during the film.
There are some very funny scenes within the film, explained by Richard Curtis (Love Actually and Notting Hill) being the screenwriter, alongside some brilliant comedic talents. A particularly funny scene occurs when Jack’s parents are, I suppose, the first people on earth to hear ‘Let It Be’ as Jack recites it on the piano in his all-too-ordinary living room, and they continue to interrupt him with doorbells and phones, thinking he is at the dead end of his career, without the faintest idea of the genius they are witnessing. Overall, the shifting between emotionally heartfelt scenes and funny sequences and one-liners works well, but there are parts of the film that feel a tad clunky and don’t quite work. The ending, for example, seems far too simple; this could just be symbolic of this fantasy world created by Boyle. But for me, being neither particularity realistic nor logical, the ending leaves viewers in limbo with too many loose ends and very little coherent clarity.
As a whole piece, Yesterday isn’t quite on the same level of genius as Slumdog Millionaire or Trainspotting; it’s an easy watch, uplifting and with some lovely renditions of The Beatles’ classics, but unfortunately just isn’t of the standard that Danny Boyle usually delivers.