Film Review: Yesterday (2019)

Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away…this British romcom doesn’t do it for my heartbear or my funny bone

“I’m trying to live outside the traditional concept of time”

Truth be told, I’ve never been the biggest fan of The Beatles (I know). Their music wasn’t a part of my childhood soundtrack and my first real memory of it comes from having to learn ‘Yellow Submarine’ and ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ in primary school choir. So the notion of Yesterday wasn’t one that particularly jumped out at me, even as it posits a world in which no-one has heard of the Fab Four.

Written by Richard Curtis, from a story by Curtis and Jack Barth, and directed by Danny Boyle, it aims squarely for that ineffably British romcom aesthetic and pretty much lands it. Unrequited love interest/friend of the opposite sex, gawky best pal, garrulous inner circle, Himesh Patel’s Jack checks off all the Curtis tropes one by one, with the added twist of twee sci-fi in the mix too.  It should work, right?

Despite the charming performances from Patel and Lily James, as the improbably ignored Ellie, Yesterday flounders around its central conceit. After a worldwide blackout in which struggling musician Jack gets hit by a bus, he awakes to find a world that has never heard of the Beatles and decides to co-opt their tunes as his own. His rise through the music industry is plagued with self-doubt though as his success can’t help but be tainted. 

That the world would be poorer without the music of the Beatles is fine but there’s a major assumption about how hard and fast the entire world tumbles for these songs, some 50 years down the line. And as they’re held up against Ed Sheeran – playing himself… – as the current pretender to the throne, it’s a lot to take. More crucially for a film desperate to be a major love story, Ellie is desperately underwritten, meaning it is hard to invest in the heart of Yesterday. Himesh Patel is excellent though and in a just world. this ought to springboard him into much greater fame.

Photos: Allstar/Working Title Films

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