Yesterday is a film with a lot on its plate, which results in a final product that is, at best, reasonably entertaining, and at worst, one step away from being a confusing mess. Whilst I did find the film enjoyable, a few key flaws prevent it from being a wholly successful romcom. Overall, despite a talented cast, and interesting premise, Yesterday is a film that promises more than it can ultimately deliver.
The film rests on the premise that, after a freak accident, failing musician Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), is the only person to remember The Beatles. Patel absolutely delivers on his performance, skillfully managing to convey his character’s conflict, therefore making it easy for the audience to root for him. Moreover, underlying his rise to success is his relationship with his friend Ellie, played spectacularly by Lily James, with both actors managing to create a convincing dynamic. Coming off of the back of last summer’s Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, Lily James has already proven herself as a romcom star, but newcomer Himesh Patel carries with him that ineffable ‘Hugh Grant quality’, making him a perfect leading man who Hollywood would be foolish not to utilise. For a film with such a fantastical premise, director Danny Boyle and writer Richard Curtis manage to provide some well needed grounding through the relationship between Jack and his friends, with an almost faultless cast all around. A special mention has to go to Plebs’ star Joel Fry and SNL’s Kate McKinnon in their scene stealing roles as ‘Rocky’, Jack’s useless friend and roadie, and Jack’s manager ‘Debra’ respectively. The pair are individually responsible for some of the film’s funnier moments, managing to balance out the romance.
However, talking about the otherwise excellent cast brings us to one of the film’s main problems – Ed Sheeran. The singer plays himself in the film, and it’s uncomfortable, never clear whether Sheeran is playing a parody of himself or not. At first, I thought the film’s fawning over Ed Sheeran was going to be played as a joke, but instead, the film plays it straight throughout. Seeing Ed Sheeran trying to act is always embarrassing – he was bullied off of Twitter after a cameo in Game of Thrones– but seeing him having to perform in such a self-serving role is cringeworthy. In a film about The Beatles we may expect a certain level of reverence towards their music, but the love the film has for Ed Sheeran throws the whole film off. After all, seeing as the film has reportedly paid $10 million for the rights to The Beatles’ catalogue, what a waste to have a romantic scene scored by an Ed Sheeran song.
However, no matter how much I would like to, I can’t blame all the film’s faults on Ed Sheeran. Yesterday is a film about a man taking credit for the life’s work and legacy of other musicians, and yet it has nothing to say on the topic. Music ownership is surprisingly relevant right now, especially considering Black Mirror’s successful episode, ‘Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too’, and Taylor Swift’s recent open letter regarding how she is not allowed to buy her masters, so it feels reductive that the film has nothing to add to this conversation. Neither does it actually deal with the negative effects of stardom; the audience is supposed to understand that fame is bad without ever truly being provided with an argument for why. In a way, this fits with the thesis of Curtis’ previous film About Time (2013), which ultimately argues that being successful is worthless compared to the true happiness found in mundane life. Yet, unlike About Time, Yesterday forgets to provide an argument to explain this view, instead simply repeating its conclusion. Ironically, just as Jack steals the words of The Beatles, so too does the film have nothing original to say.
This isn’t to say that Yesterday is a bad film. Perhaps due to the previous successes of both Curtis and Boyle, I am merely aware that it could be a lot better. Yet, as a romance lover, I did enjoy it, and whilst you may not rush to the cinema to see it, it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of The Beatles.
– Emma Ingledew