Danny Boyle is not a director you can easily fit in a box. He’s tackled a darkly comedic crime film involving heroin addicts (Trainspotting), introduced the world to fast-moving zombies (28 Days Later), and cut off James Franco’s arm (127 Hours). Despite swinging in between genres, his visual style and flair is consistent, and it was only a matter of time before he lended himself to the more romantic side of the spectrum.
Written by rom-com regular Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and A Funeral, Love Actually), the story is as follows: Jack (Patel), is hit by a bus during a worldwide blackout. Upon recovery, he discovers that he is, by and large, the only person to remember the existence of the biggest band the world has ever witnessed – The Beatles. Luckily for him, he remembers a fair amount of the band’s back catalogue, and passes their work off as his own, becoming a superstar in the process.
As is to be expected, moral conundrums ensue, but the film’s focus is primarily on a much lighter affair, that being the relationship between Jack and best friend/initial manager Ellie (James). Stuck in the friend zone, Ellie might be the only person to believe in Jack’s ability to entertain a mass audience (prior to being hit by a bus, that is).
For me, one of the film’s few problems lies in its romantic a-side. Jack comes across as a bit of a knob. Terribly entitled, he throws hissy-fits when his original music is not given as much reverence as he’d like and takes his friends, especially the aforementioned Ellie, for granted. The role is played very well by Patel, who is perfect Curtis leading man material (bumbling, slightly aloof), but it is incredibly difficult to see what Ellie does in him, especially when Lily James is such charismatic screen presence.
There may be much to be desired when it comes to the leading man, but the film more than makes up for it in its supporting characters, most of them contributing the much-needed comedy the genre needs. Jack is supported by roadie friend Rocky (Fry) when opening for Ed Sheeran, and the character shares a lot of DNA with Notting Hill’s Spike (Rhys Ifans), a tad dim, very irresponsible man-child whose mood never falters, and the film benefits from his vibrant personality.
Kate McKinnon also rounds out the cast as Jack’s new manager Debra Hammer. McKinnon is a comedic genius, and a standout on Saturday Night Live, however, one senses that she might think herself in another movie, her performance so over-the-top you can see her chewing the scenery. She’s a great talent, but the film around her a little too subdued to gel with her character decisions.
Romantic dramedies are not well known for visual flair, however, this is Danny Boyle, so no generic camera angles or cinematography is permitted. Dutch angles are used to give an out-of-place feeling, and come when you least expect it – much like Jack’s predicament – whilst slow motion is incorporated into more of the mundane-seeming sequences, for example, Jack’s Googling of the missing quartet. Boyle’s style bizarrely compliments Curtis’ writing perfectly, the two coming together to convey a sense of fantasy and out-of-body experience, and punches up what is sometimes considered standard fare.
At just under two hours, it feels its length and is perhaps a little too long for its subject matter. Jack’s increasing worry that he will be discovered as a fraud stops and starts throughout the movie, never fully explored, whilst a sequence in which he and Ellie spend an evening together in Liverpool feels like padding, their will they/won’t they becoming a bit more tedious upon its recurrent return. It never feels like too much work, but this could be a much tighter runtime.
Yesterday is a charming, albeit imperfect movie, with a mostly charming cast and a regularly funny script. It’s a shame it takes a tad too long to get to some of the meat of the story, but its visuals and warmth make it an enjoyable experience, if a little uneven.
The music’s pretty good too.