Friday, July 5, 2019

Movie Review: Yesterday

Yesterday ** ½ / *****
Directed by: Danny Boyle.
Written by: Richard Curtis and Jack Barth.
Starring: Himesh Patel (Jack Malik), Lily James (Ellie), Kate McKinnon (Mandi), Ed Sheeran (Ed Sheeran), Joel Fry (Rocky), Sophia Di Martino (Carol), Ellise Chappell (Lucy), Meera Syal (Sheila Malik), Harry Michell (Nick), Sanjeev Bhaskar (Jed Malik), Alexander Arnold (Gavin), Justin Edwards (Leo), Sarah Lancashire (Liz).
Yesterday has a premise that you could take in any number of interesting ways – and instead decides to take the path of least resistance. It’s a film about a failed singer/songwriter Jack Malick, who following a worldwide blackout one night, gets hit by a bus, and when he wakes up in the hospital, he is apparently the only one in the world who remembers The Beatles. So he does the logical thing – and passes off The Beatles music as his own, and becomes a worldwide sensation. But fame is hollow and empty – he feels guilty taking credit for others genius. And it’s all meaningless without the love of his best friend – a cute schoolteacher who has been in love with him for years, but now he’s lost his chance. What will he do?
Because the film was written by Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral) you can probably guess what he’s going to do. That’s because Yesterday is a film that is on rails – it progresses exactly how you would expect it to from each and every scene, right up to its inevitable conclusion, which is never in doubt.
It’s not that Yesterday is a bad movie – it really isn’t. The lead character, Jack Malick is played by Himesh Patel in a charming performance, even if as the film movies along, and he becomes more miserable in his success, it sucks much of the joy and charm out his performance, and he just becomes mopey. Lily James is also charming as Ellie – his love interest, although all of her talk about columns wears thing – especially since she apparently puts the fact they haven’t been together all this time entirely on him, as if she couldn’t have said something once in a decade – and then puts him in an impossible situation right that. The music is, of course, good – it’s The Beatles after all, and they must have paid millions to get the rights to the songs. Jack’s version of the songs though is, of course, not as good as The Beatles versions – but it’s still fun to hear them. Ed Sheeran shows up as himself in the film – and although I’m not in any way a fan, he clearly has a good sense of humor about himself, and isn’t afraid to poke fun of his image. He’s charming – and thankfully not overused.
Watching the film is a pleasant enough experience. Curtis is a fine screenwriter of these types of clichés, and knows what he’s doing – as does the cast. The film was directed by Danny Boyle – which is an odd choice for him, especially since he pretty much mutes his style for the film (other than a surprise cameo near the end, you probably wouldn’t guess this was a Danny Boyle at all, unless you already knew). But he’s efficient in his direction, and keeps things moving along. Yes, the film should probably be about 20 minutes shorter – cut out a lot of moping – and it could have been better.
And yet, something about the film bugged me – and I’m not sure I can quite put my finger on it. Part of it is me imaging what a more daring, darker film with this premise could have been – if say Jack remained a failure even with The Beatles songs, and was driven crazy by insisting on their genius that no one else could hear. Or how the film takes some easy ways out – and misses some opportunities for fun. When Jack agrees to an impromptu songwriting contest for example – where they are each supposed to write a song in 10 minutes – and come back, he could have least given poor Ed a chance – but he responds with The Long and Winding Road. He could have played Octopus’ Garden – or better yet, Revolution #9 just to screw with people.
But basically, it just annoyed me because there should have been a better movie here – something more daring, or at least something more. Richard Curtis took a very good premise and wrote a very mediocre Richard Curtis out of it. That cannot help but be disappointing.

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