This Movie is an affectionate tribute to The Beatles from the director of Trainspotting and 28 Days Later.
The Beatles have long been a part of cinema, with A Hard Day’s Night first making waves back in 1964, not to mention other tributes like the uneven Across the Universe. But one might never expect the once experimental Danny Boyle to be their next eulogizer.
His films have always put music front and center, seamlessly weaving it into the controlled mania that defines his aesthetic. But his latest, Yesterday, is make with much love and adoration. It bleeds onto the screen, with bubbly lyrics colorfully scrolling around the lead character’s surroundings like pop art. And yet, all that love takes away a little bit of the bite that made Boyle one of the most exciting names in film at the turn of the century.The story follows Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) as his music career goes down the toilet. He’s a nobody in a small English beach town with his childhood friend, Ellie (Lily James), acting as his part-time manager. But through a sudden accident, and bit of magic, the world inexplicably forgets The Beatles (as well as a few other cultural touchstones good for well-placed gags throughout). That is except for Jack, who starts a journey to bring the band’s many hits back to the world, just under his own name instead.
This complicated morality gives the plot its drive. But there’s rarely a moment where Boyle’s joyous tone isn’t cranked up to 11, and that’s for the better. When Jack is onstage, guitar in hand belting out classics from “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to “Let It Be” ,Yesterday is wonderfully alive.
The Yesterday Movie is an affectionate tribute to The Beatles
With the entire world hearing The Beatles for the first time, bearing witness to their amazement, and even voicing criticisms (“Hey Jude!” is forcibly turned into “Hey Dude!” by Jack’s producers), it’s a whole lot of fun being absorbed back into their genius, accompanied by fresh eyes. As Jack gets closer to fame, Ed Sheeran joins as himself, helping ease the new star into stardom, while Kate McKinnon plays his eccentric new manager, who is as if Edna Mode and Miranda Priestly occupied the same body. Unsurprisingly, McKinnon steals just about every scene she’s in with the same wild commitment to her character that makes her such a hit on SNL.
But really, the film wouldn’t work without the charm of its lead, and Patel takes us on his ethical journey with stirring pathos. He and James also share an endearing chemistry, as their friendship clearly starts to turn into something more intimate. It’s the performances that turn these old clichés into something genuinely earnest and sweet.
Screenwriter Richard Curtis keeps things light and frothy, but maybe plays it a little too easy. Yesterday’s story zips along at a considerable clip. And its many parts contribute what they need to exactly when they need to do it. That leaves the film feeling a little too polished. Even Boyle’s signature visual characteristics are considerably toned down.
This film is certainly a crowd-pleaser, and while there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, it’s hard not to want something a little deeper or more ambitious from the director of Trainspotting and 28 Days Later. But then, that’s Curtis’ influence, having written such likable films as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill, but no mind-blowing masterpieces like those Boyle has directed.
That’s not to say that Yesterday had to be a masterpiece. It is, after all, mostly a charming love letter to arguably (but not really) the greatest band of all time. Luckily, it’s also a story that challenges its characters in both impressive and emotionally gratifying ways. Yesterday certainly isn’t a game changer, but a well-done Beatles tribute is hardly a chore to watch.
Yesterday doesn’t take too many chances. But it does boast a well-told story with a cast that’s game for both its comedic and more dramatic moments. It doesn’t hurt, also, that The Beatles’ greatest hits aren’t just played throughout, but crucial to the plot.
What are the Critics saying about Yesterday?
Claudia Puig (FilmWeek (KPCC – NPR Los Angeles))
There was too much Richard Curtis and not enough Danny Boyle in this case. I didn’t feel like it was a melding of their voices that went particularly well.
Richard Brody (New Yorker)
Yesterday is ultimately a romantic comedy. But a conceptually complex one, built on a peculiarly reactionary framework of private life and a culturally conservative pop classicism.
Matthew Norman (London Evening Standard)
Fuelled by the engaging chemistry of its leads and the unflagging wonderment of the music, it zips along. But it can never quite reach escape velocity from the weight of its silliness.
Anthony Lane (New Yorker)
The movie is fun, largely because it proposes that fun is the principal legacy of the Beatles.
Kevin Maher (Times (UK))
The structure is a mess. The characters are plastic. And the lines are Seventies sitcom bad.