What would a world without The Beatles be like?
That’s the simple question Danny Boyle’s latest movie, Yesterday, poses to its audience. Unfortunately, the movie itself doesn’t really answer that question adequately enough.
Yesterday stars Himesh Patel as Jack Malik, a struggling musician who is hit by a bus at the exact same time a freak global blackout occurs, and wakes up to find that he is the only person in the world who remembers the Beatles and their songs. So what does he do? Why, take those songs on the road and pass them off as his own, of course.
Lily James stars as his childhood friend and manager, Ellie, Ed Sheeran stars as, well, himself, and Kate McKinnon plays a music agent who is only interested in how much money Jack can make for her.
Truth be told, I was drawn in by the prospect of actually seeing how a world without The Beatles would be like. Would it be a dystopian world overrun by dead-eyed zombies listening to EDM? Would it be an alternate reality in which John, Paul, George and Ringo actually start a real revolution and travel across the universe to convince everyone to overthrow their governments because apparently, all you need is love?
Oh, how about a colour-filled world in which the Fab Four have managed to escape from this reality and hitched a ride in a yellow submarine to the land of Pepperland where they have to battle a bunch of Blue Meanies? (Oh wait, they already made that movie).
Well, on hindsight, I should have known what to expect from the movie, considering it is penned by Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Notting Hill, Four Weddings And A Funeral). Yesterday is, in actual fact, a romantic comedy about a musician who falls in love with a girl but doesn’t know it until it’s too late. In other words, they could have substituted the whole Beatles-related theme with an entirely made-up band and it wouldn’t have made a difference.
As far as rom-coms go, it’s actually not bad. Boyle manages to take the whole ‘what if The Beatles never existed’ high concept and turn it into an enjoyable watch that has its moments, but never sustains them long enough to make them more meaningful.
While there is no doubt that the Beatles’ music consists of some of the best pop songs ever written, Boyle lathers on the love for the band rather thickly, and it gets a little too much at times. Case in point: his friends looking at him in awe when he sings Yesterday, Russian fans falling over themselves when he sings Back In The USSR, and Ed Sheeran himself showing up at Jack’s doorstep after hearing him sing In My Life on the TV and offering him the opening slot on one of his shows.
And don’t even get me started on the ‘sing-off’ with Sheeran, who challenges him to each write a song in 10 minutes, and concedes defeat when Jack sings The Long And Winding Road. “You’re Mozart and I’m Salieri,” he says to Jack as he walks off dejectedly.
Sheeran, it has to be said, is actually pretty watchable here and has some of the movie’s funniest moments, while James does her best with what is a rather limited role.
Patel is, rightfully, the real star of the show. Thrust into a world in which he is totally out of depth, thanks to songs he didn’t write, Jack struggles with not just his new-found and ill-gotten fame, but also with remembering the lyrics of the songs (the Eleanor Rigby scene was particularly amusing).
It’s just a pity he isn’t given more time to explore just what kind of void is left by not having those classic Beatles songs around. As it is, What could have been an intriguing alternate reality movie turns out to be a standard rom-com that doesn’t do its premise enough justice.
Still, if a decent rom-com is what you’re looking for, Yesterday should do the trick. After all, it’s got really awesome soundtrack too…
Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Ed Sheeran, and Kate McKinnon.