Saturday 6 July 2019

Movie Review: Yesterday (2019)

A music-inspired romantic comedy with a fantasy premise, Yesterday combines the songs of The Beatles with an appealing and lighthearted story about the lure of fame.

In England, Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is an unknown struggling singer songwriter close to giving up on the dream of a music career. His manager and agent Ellie (Lily James) has steadfastly supported him since grade school, but their relationship never progressed beyond friendship. A mysterious global power blackout lasts for 12 seconds, during which Jack is hit by a bus.

He wakes up in hospital, and upon recovering is stunned to realize he is the only person on earth who knows who The Beatles are. The Fab Four (along with a few other iconic items) appear to have never existed. Jack senses an opportunity to claim The Beatles' catalogue as his own work. He is soon discovered by Ed Sheeran (playing himself) and business manager Debra Hammer (Kate McKinnon), and sets off on a wild ride towards superstardom, but at a cost to his relationship with Ellie.

Tapping into the eternal magic of The Beatles' music, Yesterday sets off to explore the conflict between fame and fulfilment. The film is elegantly paced and earnestly staged by director Danny Boyle, and benefits from agreeable performances from Patel and James, with a terrific assist from McKinnon.

Richard Curtis conjured up the script, and uses the global memory hiccup as a humorous launching off point to delve into eternal conflicts. Jack can achieve everything he ever wanted if he can just continue to lie to himself and turn away from Lily's adoration. Keeping one secret and losing one woman will allow him to become the world's biggest music star, and Yesterday playfully toys with Jack's internal agony as he gets to decide which version of the future he will seize.

The romance between Jack and Ellie underpins the story. The two are perfectly suited to each other but in their ten years as friends and business partners never found the courage to express their true feelings. Now with fate and fame intervening it may all be too late, but Curtis keeps the flame flickering, with both demonstrating vulnerability to provide the film with its human warmth.

Elsewhere McKinnon gets the best one-liners as the acerbic music manager fully in charge of the industry machinery and just as fully fixated on the bottom line, while Joel Fry as accidental roadie Rocky provides laidback comic support. Ed Sheeran lends plenty of star power and credibility as the already-there superstar paving the way for the next and greater talent to emerge.

With the clever cosmic twist deployed to tangle up would-be lovers in a global knot filled with delicious pitfalls and opportunities, Yesterday is suitably inspired by music that changed the world. 

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