Review - Yesterday
Reviewed by: Beth Easton
Few people are unaware of the Beatles and their impact on popular culture. Yet this is the premise brought to us by screenwriter Richard Curtis (Notting Hill, Love Actually) and director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting). Straight away when we think about Richard Curtis’ films the Romcom comes to mind, a genre which he has mastered successfully, and this film follows suit.
Danny Boyle’s interesting mix of directing gives this film a slight edge that is exciting and different to Curtis’ previous pieces. Yesterday follows recent music films such as Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman, but stands out amongst them due to its entirely fictional narrative, rather than focus on real people’s lives. The film is a feel good celebration of the Beatles music and their impact on the world.
Going on the trend of many other current programmes like Sex Education and The Society, the mise-en-scene of the film is slightly ambiguous. Possibly now, possibly early 2000’s or possibly even tomorrow. It keeps the audience guessing and gives it a great timeless quality fitting of the plot. The entire film asks you to suspend your disbelief and take a journey from the real world into Jack’s journey to stardom.
Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a struggling musician whose life is turned around after he is hit by a bus. At the same time a strange power cut momentarily leaves the entire globe in darkness. After these events, Jack is suddenly the only person who remembers the Beatles and their music.
As you can imagine, he ends up playing these songs for friends and family who cannot believe his new song writing talent. Himesh captures every stage of his journey perfectly, hitting all the right tones along the way. He remains affable and likeable throughout his rise to stardom on the back of Lennon and McCartney’s work. There are many sweet scenes between Jack and his group of friends, highlighting Richard Curtis writing skills at delivering realistic but humorous dialogue.
The musical biopic, fictional or otherwise, tends to include the inner battle of success versus being true to yourself. Yesterday also tackles this issue as the music industry tries to mould Jack into a polished version of himself that inevitably doesn’t want to be there. The layered comments here allow the audience to question the highly image focused music world. Jack’s manager Deborah (Kate McKinnon) represents the music world and many of her lines are about money, image and how Jack is sub-par looks wise. McKinnon is devilish, both luring him promises of success and bullying him with brutal character assassinations and observations. McKinnon’s characterisation is often stereotypical but on this occasion she gets away with it.
Jack’s first manager is Ellie Appleton (Lily James). She’s a teacher with no spare time and yet she manages to balance her job (she’s a secondary school maths teacher, shown in action in a very honest yet brief scene) as well as supporting Jack in his quest to become a recognised artist. Her charm and positivity are infectious, leaving the audience in no doubt about how she feels about the leading man. As strong as the performance was I do feel the character was let down slightly by a handful of writing decisions that seemed a little out of date. Nonetheless – a wonderful performance and I’m sure the audience will all leave wanting a Lily in their life.
It is no surprise to say that Ed Sheeran appears in the film. What is unexpected is how good he is in it. Although he popped up in Game of Thrones, it is fair to say he is a singer first, actor second. With that said, he plays a significant role in the story and does it well. There are moments when the other characters, namely Rocky (Joel Fry), take a few pot shots at him and some of his creative choices. Ed rolls with the punches, showing an impressive ability to not take himself too seriously.
We all have that friend who pin balls through life with no plan, living for the moment and with what appears to be an endless supply of luck. For Jack, that friend is Rocky. A fun-loving member of Jack’s inner circle who quickly becomes his sidekick through his journey to second-hand stardom. Awkward moments, social blunders, abrupt home truths and clumsiness are paired with love, care and humour. In fact, Jack’s friends are well-crafted characters, with a history that doesn’t need to be seen to be believed – which is a real credit to the actors, writing and directing.
For me, some of the best moments of the film were the ordinary daily life elements in which we see Jack struggling to inspire his parents (both wonderfully portrayed by Meera Syal and Sanjeev Bhaskar) with his music. This is a film we all need right now, to switch off from the real world and to enjoy the Beatles music via a fictional narrative of pure fun. If you go in looking for a film to entertain and to hear the Beatles music in a new way then this is guaranteed to be for you. It has a lovely message, that it isn’t all about fame and fortune but that there is something more out there.