Yesterday isn’t a film to overthink. Don’t get bogged down in the details of how or why its world works, or what the rules of its high concept scenario are. This is just a movie you flow with. You won’t leave the cinema pondering its themes or questioning deeper meanings. But you will leave with a big involuntary smile on your face. Because while it’s all parts hokey, sugary, fun, and even melancholic, overall it’s just joyful; the joy of discovery, of music, of friendship and love.
Imagine there’s no The Beatles (for everyone except you). It’s easy if you try. That’s the pitch from Jack Barth and Richard Curtis that powers this rom-com/celebration of the (most well known) work of the Fab Four. Jack (Himesh Patel, impressively stepping up from TV work into his first major lead role) is a failing musician from a forgettable English town, working a dead-end job and playing depressing gigs in half empty, uninterested pubs. But he’s always (inexplicably) supported by his long time manager and questionably platonic friend Ellie (Lily James with a reliably excellent – but far from challenging – performance). After a particularly disastrous gig Jack decides to pack it all in. But on a resigned bike ride home he gets hit by a bus at the exact moment the whole world experiences a blackout. He wakes to find the world the same, apart from that one major difference. What will he do with this unknown, genius musical knowledge at his fingertips. And at what cost.
Coming from the pen of Curtis, you know what you’re likely to get – the eccentric best mates, the gentle British humour, the troubled central relationship, the big romantic gestures, the obvious dialogue (“We’re not in a big story with an exciting ending. We need a miracle. Miracles do happen!”). But it’s comfort cinema. It’s full of mainly good, decent characters who bring warmth to the screen. There’s great chemistry between the two leads and plenty of laughs among the way. The easy comedy is nicely spiced up by a spikey Kate McKinnon as a predatory agent, and Ed Sheeran – while no one could ever mistake him for an actor – is good value in a self-deprecating role. The direction from Danny Boyle is straightforward but playful, and while he should have allowed himself more, there are a few nice flourishes: the way the camera drifts away during the “first” play of ‘Yesterday’; a recording montage cut by passing trains; the way he visualises the birth of online fame.
With Yesterday Richard Curtis shows that no one does the high concept rom-com like him. From Four Weddings to About Time and now this, you know what you’re going to get with Curtis – the good and the bad – but damn if it isn’t effective. You could sit down and pick it apart, but it’s much better to just sink it, let it play, and let it be.
Yesterday is in cinemas from 27th June through Universal Pictures.