Danny Boyle and Richard Curtis' Yesterday is flaky fun

by Russell Baillie / 09 July, 2019
RelatedArticlesModule - Yesterday movie review

directed by Danny Boyle

A comedy set in a a world with no memory of the Fab Four is lightweight but enjoyable.

There’s a point in Yesterday where Ed Sheeran, the very one, is teasing Jack Malik about the new tune he’s just performed in his Moscow support slot, Back in the U.S.S.R. “You weren’t even born when it was named that,” the ginger superstar tells his understudy backstage about the place’s previous moniker.

What Sheeran doesn’t know is that, as the result of a global glitch in the time-space continuum and a well-timed concussion, Jack (Himesh Patel) is now the only one who knows Beatles songs – he wakes up to a world where the band and all they meant never existed.

So, armed with his memories of the Lennon-McCartney songbook, the struggling Suffolk singer-songwriter fast becomes pop’s Next Big Thing. Even if he can’t remember all of Eleanor Rigby. Even if it means he has to abandon Ellie (Lily James), a friend since childhood who has attempted to manage his music career.

That Moscow encounter is an incidental scene, but it’s also a telling moment. Had Yesterday taken the idea of a Beatles-challenged planet much more seriously, it might still be the USSR today – there have been books and films about how The Beatles’ influence permeated the Iron Curtain and helped tear it down. And U.S.S.R is also a good song to include in a movie about passing off musical ideas, given the debt it owes to Chuck Berry and The Beach Boys.

As intriguing a premise as Yesterday is, the film only goes so far with it. A Fab Four-free world extends to a joke that 1990s Beatles derivatives Oasis could never exist, either. There is one startling result of this imagined pop-culture black hole in a later scene. It’s the what-if taken to a logical conclusion and best left unspoilt. But it’s an irreverent touch in a movie that otherwise plays it safe with its concept.

Mostly, Yesterday is an enjoyable, energetic, abundantly tuneful if flaky romcom and lightweight music-biz satire (care of Kate McKinnon as Jack’s predatory new manager, Debra). It does require an extra suspension of disbelief to accept that Jack bashing out I Saw Her Standing There is his, er, ticket to ride to the big time in 2019. And in treating The Beatles’ songs as one big jukebox, not a progression from mop-top rock’n’roll to psychedelic experimentation and songwriter introspection, there’s a point being missed.

There’s some storytelling sag in its second half and signs of editing patch-ups – a scene in the trailer, in which Jack instantly “writes” Something on a talkshow and makes a fellow guest fall for him, isn’t in the film. Elsewhere, the unrequited Jack-Ellie love story struggles to give the romcom much rom.

Written by Richard Curtis, the film bears many of his hallmarks – romances between famous and unfamous people and between women who look like movie stars and blokes who don’t; extravagant declarations of love with many onlookers. It’s given energetic treatment by director Danny Boyle, whose last time doing something this crowd-pleasing was the opening of the London Olympics, which would have been an hour shorter had Hey Jude not existed. There is a little too much of Sheeran, even if it’s his best role since his Shortland Street cameo.

As Jack, Patel, a longtime EastEnder, has an Indian heritage that goes unremarked upon. Still, it’s a nice touch for a Beatles movie, even if his repertoire avoids any of George Harrison’s sitar numbers. Patel is great, comedically and musically, and he makes Jack’s one-man hard day’s night terrific fun. He’ll be a tough act to follow in any sequel (Yesterday 2: Tomorrow Never Knows, perhaps?) or stage version.



This article was first published in the July 13, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.


Writer Robert Macfarlane finds deeps truths in Underland
108287 2019-07-17 00:00:00Z Books

Writer Robert Macfarlane finds deeps truths in Und…

by Tony Murrow

In a new book, Robert Macfarlane heads underground to ponder mankind’s effect on the planet.

Read more
Why extra virgin olive oil is back on the menu for frying
108203 2019-07-17 00:00:00Z Nutrition

Why extra virgin olive oil is back on the menu for…

by Jennifer Bowden

For decades, the word in the kitchen has been that olive oil shouldn’t be used for frying, but new research could change that.

Read more
Abstract artist Gretchen Albrecht's true colours
108108 2019-07-16 00:00:00Z Profiles

Abstract artist Gretchen Albrecht's true colours

by Linda Herrick

Gretchen Albrecht paintings may be intangible, but they are triggered by real-life experience, she tells Linda Herrick.

Read more
That's a Bit Racist is playful, but it packs a punch
108435 2019-07-16 00:00:00Z Television

That's a Bit Racist is playful, but it packs a pun…

by Diana Wichtel

The taboo-busting doco is trying to change our default settings on race, but some people aren't stoked.

Read more
Are there too many tourists in NZ?
108444 2019-07-16 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

Are there too many tourists in NZ?

by North & South

Here's what's inside North and South's August 2019 issue.

Read more
Huawei's dogged determination: Can it make a breakthrough in New Zealand?
108428 2019-07-16 00:00:00Z Tech

Huawei's dogged determination: Can it make a break…

by Peter Griffin

The tech company at the centre of a trade war between the US and China is willing to go to extraordinary lengths to prove it can be trusted.

Read more
The many miracles of Aretha Franklin movie Amazing Grace
108368 2019-07-15 00:00:00Z Movies

The many miracles of Aretha Franklin movie Amazing…

by Russell Baillie

A long-lost concert movie capturing Lady Soul in her prime is heading to the New Zealand International Film Festival.

Read more
The untold history of China's one child policy
108182 2019-07-14 00:00:00Z History

The untold history of China's one child policy

by RNZ

Nanfu Wang explains the story behind her film One Child Nation, which screens at the International Film Festival this July.

Read more