This summer, we were introduced to a world where no one remembers The Beatles. Yesterday, directed by Danny Boyle and starring Himesh Patel, Lily James, and Ed Sheeran, tells the story of a struggling musician from Suffolk, England who, having been involved in an accident after all of the electricity in the world flicked of for 12 seconds, wakes up to realise he’s the only person, as far as he knows, who remembers that The Beatles ever existed. He makes the most of his memory, performing the legendary tunes of the Gods of music and passing them off as his own. His career skyrockets in a matter of months, completely transforming his life.
I cannot really explain the extent to which I was anticipating this film. Seriously. I absolutely freaked out when I saw the trailer for it months and months ago, and my anticipation did not die. I have to make clear my love for The Beatles. My love is real, so my opinions on this film are likely to be tinted heavily by my love for the music in it, which I’d argue is very much the point of the movie.
From a filmmaking standpoint, this was a decent effort. There are some things that were done that annoyed me, most notably the existence of the character of Rocky. I felt he was absolutely unnecessary, providing no comic relief that couldn’t have been offered by the characters already on screen, and almost always at the inappropriate time. Which was a shame, because I felt the script had its fair share of comic relief on its own. It’s a funny film, but moments of sobriety that could have and should have been more impactful were much less so because of some odd decisions in terms of when to inject humor. It doesn’t completely shade over the serious moments. I really appreciated Jack and Ellie’s love story, I thought it was well written and done sweetly, with just the right amount of innocence. Himesh Patel’s performance is average, far from bad just unspectacular, while Lily James was much stronger. Ed Sheeran was pretty good actually, he had a much larger role in the film than I might have expected. The most interesting performance, for me, was Kate McKinnon in the ordinarily stock role of the money-obsessed, conniving, corrupting music agent. Her character is weird, almost self aware in that she seems to speak subtext. She says out loud things that aren’t ordinarily said in those particular situations, and McKinnon has delivered the lines in such a way that it feels almost like she’s reading out thought bubbles. It’s a little strange for some time, but it ends up being a really interesting, funny take on a character that feels like exists in any and all films about music these days.
I didn’t take offence, as I know some have to an understandable extent, at the more or less complete lack of interest in explaining the sci-fi components of the film. The phenomenon that leaves the world without The Beatles, as well as some other slightly significant things (a feature that I kind of liked, it made the whole thing feel a lot less specific) is never understood. You’re never told why Jack, along with two other complete strangers, are the only people in the world, seemingly, who remember anything. Sci-fi fans will be up in arms, as perhaps they are entitled to be. However, as far as I was concerned that wasn’t really the point of the film. In fact, you learn quickly that the point of the film isn’t even really The Beatles (a sad realisation for me, you can imagine). The Beatles, the lights flicking on and off, these are means to an end that is telling the story of a meteoric rise, and the things that come with it, and a decade-old unrequited love. This is undoubtedly a feel good film, there’s no obvious antagonist or anything. You dislike McKinnon’s character, of course, but she’s not focused upon enough to be the antagonist of the film.
There’s no denying that the film isn’t an emotional roller coaster, it never gets particularly uncomfortable. Some might see this as weak plot writing, but I’d argue that the simplicity might be the point. The music, which is incredible, of course, is in this sense mirrored. There is a little bit more reference to source material here, or maybe my mind is seeing a pattern where none exists. The Beatles’ music is infamous for it’s simplicity, they hit exactly the right note with only as much moving around as is needed. This film is a little bit of the same. The story is told sweetly and gently, in a way that won’t hurt anyone. Maybe there’s a cue being taken there. The matter of The Beatles themselves is, of course, unavoidable. They do one wonderful thing, which I won’t detail here for to avoid spoilers, but suffice it to say that there’s a little surprise in there that is just so satisfying to a Beatles fan. Himesh Patel’s singing is a little below average for me; on songs like Yesterday and I Want to Hold Your Hand he’s very very good but there are some tracks where he’s not smashing it for me. But, again, I’d argue that that might be part of the point. One of the ideas of the film is that, ultimately, he’ll do.
All in all, this is a fun film. Something I haven’t found a place to mention just yet is the direction. There’s something understatedly stylistic about the film, something quirky without being obviously so. Danny Boyle’s seemed to be the right hands to put this film in in my opinion, giving it just the right amount of flair without it becoming overbearing. It’s an easy watch, and one you’ll walk out of pleased that you walked in. Simple and sweet, much like the music of the Lords of Music that colour its soundtrack, Yesterday is a lovely summer watch.
– Aman Datta
Aman’s score – 74/100 Aryamaan’s score –