One day, when I was a small child, I remember my father putting the needle to the groove and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ unfolding. It transported me to a world beyond thought and logic, somewhere close to the divine. Many of the Beatles’ songs throughout my childhood brought similar experiences, and I’ll always be a lifelong fan. Danny Boyle’s new film Yesterday brought back so many memories and feelings for me that at times I was in tears.
Jack (Himesh Patel) is a struggling musician living in Suffolk, who gives up on his dreams just as a global blackout occurs. He’s hit by a lorry while on his pushbike and wakes to find a world in which the Beatles never existed – cue amusing jokes involving him googling the band.
He decides to pretend that he has written all of their songs, and with the help of Ed Sheeran (playing himself) becomes a megastar. But his conscience begins to get the better of him, and his true love Ellie (Lily James) may be slipping through his fingers…
Yesterday is, at times, a frustrating film. But, come the end, I felt as I have many times upon finishing a movie: a sense of rejuvenation, transformation and belief. Anyone who has seen the writer Richard Curtis’ (Four Weddings and a Funeral) work will know that there’s usually a large dose of saccharine involved. The film’s premise and execution reflect this. It’s undoubtedly predictable, but the absolute love for these songs shines through. It truly made me imagine a world in which the Beatles had never featured, and to listen to their music with fresh ears.
This is in no small part attributable to Patel’s ability to make the songs sound like they were being played for the first time. In a wonderful scene, Sheeran challenges Jack to write a song in ten minutes, and he duly performs ‘The Long and Winding Road’. In his hands, McCartney’s beautiful ode to love sounds timeless and completely fresh.
However, in the early part of the film, Patel’s performance is unconvincing. He plays it a little flat, and as a result his character feels underwritten. Come the second half, this absolutely changed. I really felt for this man in an imagined situation of such insanity.
A mid-film scene has Ellie deliver Jack an ultimatum: it’s her, or fame. I found James’ performance tear-jerkingly honest, and felt it communicated the theme of the film: All You Need is Love. The chemistry between the two is palpable, and you’ll likely really want them to end up together. On the negative side, Kate McKinnon as Jack’s manager is a mostly one-dimensional, cliched character, only out for money and gratingly so. Other characters such as Rocky, Jack’s road manager, manage some laughs but have little depth. I’m not a fan of any Ed Sheeran songs thatI’ve heard so far, and his presence put me off a little — despite gamely taking the piss out of himself here. His fans will find much to enjoy in this film.
While scoring high on the Ben and Jerry’s scale of sugary sweetness, Yesterday definitely succeeds on the levels it sets its sights on; it’s heartwarming, beautiful and funny, and truly showcases the all-encompassing power of the Beatles’ music. More than this, the film celebrates the transformative power of love (to quote Huey Lewis), which can make the mundane magical and the everyday be the eternal moment. Not just being in love with someone: just being.
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