Way back when I first saw the trailers for Yesterday, I thought it sounded like an excellent premise. After all, mixing romantic comedy with light fantasy and a soundtrack of Beatles covers was both original yet still familiar enough to grab my attention.
Directed by Danny Boyle and starring Himesh Patel (EastEnders, Tenet) as Jack Malik, a struggling musician who finds himself in an alternate reality where no one has ever heard of the Beatles. His manager and best friend Ellie (Lily James) – who also happens to be his biggest and only fan to begin with – is able to set him on the path to stardom by taking credit for the Beatles songs.
Yesterday is an odd film. It’s formulaic, but still somehow keeps you guessing. It progresses predictably, but with enough twists and turns to make you believe, for a moment, that it’s doing something incredibly innovative.
Sadly, it doesn’t quite live up to the potential of its interesting premise. At its core, Yesterday poses a question of ethics, but instead of taking any time to really explore that, it gets lost in the telling of its predictable love story.
Now, that isn’t to say that it isn’t a sweet and enjoyable film. Patel is excellent as Malik, exuding an undeniably British charisma that’s sarcastic, self-deprecating and supremely charming. He also just happens to possess a beautiful singing voice.
Ultimately, Yesterday‘s biggest problem is its abundance of ideas. There’s a fascinating fantasy premise, an overtly musical story, and a hefty dose of romantic comedy-drama all fighting to get to the forefront, and while it all works, it feels a little too forced. The moral and ethical dilemma of the fantastical premise goes largely unexplored (though it is still a major plot point), and the romantic aspect feels rushed, with Ellie’s character being more than a little two-dimensional.
This is probably due, in part, to the fact that the original premise and screenplay were written by Jack Barth, with Richard Curtis coming in later on and rewriting the script to give it a more romantic outlook. It’s not hard to see how it all got a little jumbled.
Still, Yesterday is a well-acted (and well-sung) musical fantasy romantic comedy drama, and it’s got an excellent soundtrack, so if you’re a fan of the Beatles (or of romantic comedies), it’s well worth a watch.
Summary: Despite something of an identity crisis, Yesterday delivers an exciting and entertaining experience that will (almost definitely) leave you with multiple Beatles songs stuck in your head.
Highlight: Patel’s renditions of numerous Beatles classics are genuinely excellent.