It seems like only yesterday when I first watched the trailer of Danny Boyle’s Yesterday. The outrageous what-if scenario it teased immediately put it in my must-watch list for 2019. This is after all a time when YouTube comments on older songs harp on how they don’t make them like they used to. Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman — biopics of different strengths — encashed on that nostalgia quite stirringly and the only logical way to top Queen and Elton John was to go to the masters themselves: The Beatles. A cultural phenomenon like none before or since it’s intriguing to consider what a world without The Beatles would be like? Danny Boyle has taken that idea, and alongside Richard Curtis, made it into a film.
The premise is simple enough. There is a world-wide blackout for 12 seconds and during this time, Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), a musician who plays for an audience of four and part-time at a local convenience store, gets hit by a bus and goes into a coma. He wakes up to find a world that never knew about The Beatles, where only he is privy to all their songs. Malik might be a down-and-out loser but he sees an opportunity to be something that he always wanted to be — famous. It is this quest of his that the film follows.
Yesterday has a lot to offer in terms of comedy. There are a couple of really good satirical takes on the names of famous Beatles albums — ‘The White Album’ might not be a politically-correct name because it does not address diversity or that ‘Abbey Road’ is just a road where people drive the opposite way and makes no sense as an album name.
There is another such moment when Hey Jude becomes Hey Dude for the modern millennial or Generation Z. The genesis of Let It Be is a good throwback to the Mr Bean days of writer Richard Curtis, as the song, due to multiple disturbances in various forms, becomes Leave It Be. On the other hand, the birth of Eleanor Rigby is as Boyle as it gets, with a glorious throwback to his Trainspotting/28 Days Later phase.
But this is a film written by Richard Curtis, and the writer has flipped the Notting Hill script for the romantic comedy that Yesterday eventually becomes. Where it was a bookseller and a famous movie star, here it is long-time manager/school teacher/one-side lover Ellie Appleton (Lily James) and the overnight pop-star Jack.
It is however here that the film falters as the wonderful acting capability of James, who pretty much towers over everyone else in the film, cannot be matched by the limited Patel when they are in the same frame. And when the film, with all its possibilities, decides to paint itself into such a corner, the results are distinctly (and expectedly) below-par. I mean, this is the kind of film where Ed Sheeran comes in a cameo and calls himself the Salieri to The Beatles’ Mozart. All due respect to the man, but this sort of
pretentious self-serving line throws us off.
There are multiple ways this film could have gone — What if The Beatles were forgotten and no one cared for their songs even when resurrected? What if The Beatles were forgotten and no British Invasion happened, would entertainment be as we know it? The Beatles had far-ranging impact across many spheres, so much so that one what-if film like Boyle’s was never going to be able to cover it all. Yet, it is not the product itself, but the lack of trying that is sad. Even the greatest hits of The Beatles, and I counted around 20 in the film, are just 20-30 second nuggets except for a couple of full-fledged renditions. Here was a chance for Boyle and Curtis to take us on a ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ but it instead ends up as just something that is ‘Here, There and Everywhere’.
Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Ed Sheeran