All the troubles that are not so far away
By Casey Lee
Jack Malek is an aspiring, albeit struggling, singer who wants to play outside his local pubs at Suffolk. After giving up his stable teaching job to be a performer (and part-time retail arranger) for a decade, Jack hasn't made an impression enough with his songs to have a record label knocking on his door. Even with the support of Ellie, his long-time friend and part-time manager, Jack decides to hang up his guitar but is met with a road accident when all the electricity in the world flickers out for half a minute. Waking up on a hospital bed, Jack finds that the world has changed with not a soul remembering The Beatles; as if one of the most seminal bands in music have been wiped out from existence.
While Yesterday is primed to be a charming love comedy with its outrageous premise, what comes out of it is a rather mixed bag of bitter pills about the state of the music industry today, and a honeycombed romance that is unhealthily relying on the chemistry of its lead actors. Rather than being swayed by the lyrics and yearnings of yesterday, Boyle and Curtis seemed more interested in turning a more cynical eyes towards the current state of the music industry if The Beatles were to come into existence today. This is evident from Kate McKinnon representing that side as the unabashedly expletive and exploitative agent who seeks to wring out every dollar worth out of Jack's "original hits" and musicians like Ed Sheeran perching like a hawk to dive in and compromise the creative integrity of the songs just so he can get a collaboration credit out of the deal. While all that could have been some darker and heavier themes, it is certainly not a direction that the trailer seem to be selling on, and rains on the rather cheery parade.
That comes at a cost in the romance department as well. While Patel and Lily James make a cute couple, their straining relationship doesn't feel quite explored or developed when compared to Curtis’ other more beloved works. Ellie only waits to be in his arms for reasons never quite clearly expressed except a backstage glimpse as Jack performed a cover of Oasis' Wonderwall, and their payoff is not going to go down as one of the most memorable since ‘Love, Actually’. In between the weakest and weirdest pulls of the story, the story does hit the right notes with the comedic implications of The Beatles not existing in the world (among other things), and Boyle's fans would be pleasurably distracted by the dutch-angles, colour grading and on-screen effects that signal this would not be a delightful nostalgia trip a Beatles fan might be signing up for.
For someone who is in for the music, they might feel a little disappointed that they will not get the full experience of hearing a standout performance of The Beatles (other than listening to the opening of Let It Be three times in a row), even if Himesh is more than capable of pulling off an enjoyable cover. Sadly, Yesterday has more trouble coming with it than it leaves behind, deducting points in what should have worked as an otherwise, straightforward, sentimental and sweet love story, surrounded by songs from The Beatles to make it a special something.