What if you woke up to find yourself in a world where The Beatles never existed? In Danny Boyle and Richard Curtis’ latest film Yesterday, this is the exact problem a struggling musician finds himself in.
Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a struggling musician, playing small pub gigs to dwindling crowds. He’s on the verge of returning to teaching, much to the dismay of his long-time manager and best friend Ellie (Lily James), who’s also his biggest fan. This all changes when, during a global power outage, Jack is hit by a bus. Waking up, he seems to be the only person on Earth who’s heard of The Beatles. Slowly he begins to reconstruct their songs from memory, passing them off as his own, winning fame and fortune at the price of honesty and possibly his friendship with Ellie.
Yesterday manages to transcend the usual romantic comedy fare, due in large part to its high-concept premise. Rather than defaulting to the predictable will they-won’t they trope, the film manages to navigate more interesting waters, dealing with honesty, creativity, the price of fame and wish fulfilment. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its share of warm and fuzzy moments, but the more romantic elements of the story definitely feel like the weaker parts of the film.
Both director Danny Boyle and writer Richard Curtis are no strangers to high-concept films. Boyle’s made some of the more visually interesting films from the past 20 years, while Curtis has been straying from the path of conventional romantic comedy with films like About Time. The pair have created a film that deals as much with lost love as it does with navigating the music business and the moral dilemma of claiming someone’s art as your own.
Patel, most known for his television work on EastEnders, makes his film debut, proving to be not only a talented musician but also an adept leading man. He plays Jack with a wide-eyed innocence that helps sell the comedy as well as the more tense or dramatic moments. It’s a performance that could’ve easily become one-note, but thankfully Patel manages to create a character who you’re actually invested in, which in turn helps sell the concept of the story.
The always-great Lily James shines in a somewhat thankless role as Ellie. Her performance is so strong and grounded that you seem to disregard that her character is underwritten. Boyle also surrounds his leads with a great supporting cast, headed up by Ed Sheeran, who doesn’t seem shy about playing an overblown version of himself for the film.
This is easily Boyle’s most accessible film since Slumdog Millionaire and finds him easing back on his visual flairs to allow the story and performances to take centre stage. The high-concept premise helps make the film stand out amongst other rom-coms and music biopics of late, giving audiences lighthearted laughs, sweet romantic moments and plenty of Beatles classics to tap along to.
Yesterday is released in Australian cinemas today.