Danny Boyle’s ‘Yesterday’: A Review

Himesh Patel in Yesterday

I don’t know why the insult ‘basic’ is pretty much exclusively levelled at young women when you can be an old man and write this fucking shit. I mean, I do, misogyny, but goddamn this some real boomer type trash.

Like, The Beatles are good and all. Their music’s great, their films are amazing, and I guess being born way after all that happened gives me enough perspective to appreciate it on like a normal level. The actual complete amount of cloying, sickening adulation that this film has is hard to bear, the worst thing being: it doesn’t particularly seem to care for the band at all, just the music — devoid of all context, artistry and form. Not a single one of the surviving members of the band makes an appearance.

Like, that’s gotta be a bad sign, right? As if the film don’t do a good enough job at signalling its basement level expectations right from the start. It opens on Himesh Patel and Lily James as a struggling musician and his manager who keeps up a day job as a musician and you kinda get that there’s some chemistry between them and so far so innocuous but it’s Richard Curtis so you just know that there’s some bullshit coming down the pipe eventually.

Some mysterious event happens, and he suddenly finds himself in a world where, amongst other things, The Beatles have been entirely erased from history and everyone’s memory but his own. He starts playing their music and people go fucking wild.

Like, when writing about the Michael Keaton Ray Kroc film I argued that it fundamentally didn’t work because it didn’t conceptualise McDonald’s as anything other than an inevitable success — I sorta want to be more generous to it now because at least the franchise actually made it.

Yesterday goes out of its way to make sure our characters never have to work for anything, it just assumes that you’re already brought in. Ed Sheeran (still not an actor, can hit punchlines but not much else) hears the music and just whisks him away on tour. A producer catches the set and suddenly he has a record deal. Oh, now the record’s been produced and he’s got media appearances and a launch event and at no point do we learn anything more interesting about him than ‘he remembers The Beatles’.

That’s it. That’s the one character hook we get, no point making him an interesting or compelling person in his own right because he just exist in the plot as a repository of work from the-best-and-greatest-band-that-has-ever-or-will-ever-exist™. That and be all moony for a girl that he treats like shit in that classic Richard Curtis way that we’re supposed to think is charming.

For her part, the girl gets even less. I don’t even remember her name. She gets to be in love with the main dude, but conflicted and ‘women, huh? Emotions, right? Never can tell what they’re going to do.’ At one pivotal moment she silently creeps into a room and kisses him. Only, psyke! It’s actually a dream sequence, and he’s sitting alone. The fact that either of these realities could be equally true should be such a red flag that this woman had no real character — outside of that the man projects onto her — that you’re kinda dumbfounded nobody noticed.

Obviously the film is going to end with a stunning turn of events that, if it ever happened in real life, would lead to the dude getting a slap and cut off permanently, but I guess it all works out here. There’s certain tells you get watching movies where you’re like, ‘oh, I know exactly who made this.’ Old white men should really try harder.

The LA satire shit here is like the worst and laziest of all. There’s a whole lot of business around a marketing meeting that plays like the most tired hack shit imaginable. Danny Boyle’s visual flair and propulsive pace at least make the look and rhythm feel nice but the, ‘lol everyone at the table has a different colour juice’ thing is the most toothless version of that joke possible.

The only place it’s approached with any meanness is when Kate McKinnon appears as this predatory manager type. Her snarling, chaotic lesbian energy is I guess supposed to be read as threatening, but is undermined by the fact that she’s possibly the most relatable character in this thing. What does she want? Money, and I’m more than happy to watch her single minded pursuit of that goal. At least she seems to be having fun, and effortlessly too.

Everything else here is so much work. It feels like it’s shouting at you constantly, demanding you enjoy it more. Even the fancy camera tricks he uses to liven up the rote stuff feel awkwardly forced, shooting folks arriving at the house in a long shot through rippled glass, it’s a bit much.

I know there’s a certain segment of the population that this is going to fucking jive with. It’s gonna click, they’ll be all in. I mean, it’ll be the people who look at Sheeran and Corden playing themselves and actually see a musician and a chat show host instead of two living human jokes.

Maybe, eventually, they’ll catch up with the rest of us and see this film for the fucking gag that it actually is.

Yesterday is currently screening in UK cinemas.

Two Stars
Image courtesy Universal Pictures

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