Given that they have been such an influential and integral part of Western culture for nearly six decades now, it is next to impossible to imagine a world in which The Beatles never existed.
Writers, Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Four Weddings And A Funeral) and Jack Barth (Attack The Block), have now attempted to create a possible scenario that encompasses this improbable occurrence. And, in Yesterday, they have managed to do this with more than a modicum of ingenuity, creating a rom-com fantasy which centres on a struggling, modestly talented, singer-songwriter, Jack Malik (played by EastEnders soapie star, Himesh Patel) who wakes up in the recovery room of a local hospital after having been hit by a bus during an unexplained twelve second global electrical blackout. He soon finds out that the world has changed forever in a number of subtle ways.
First and foremost, he discovers that the Fab Four never existed. Neither have a number of other iconic popular culture touchstones, particularly some performers who had followed the Liverpool lads’ footprint a little too closely.
Jack, it transpires, is the only musician in the world who now has any knowledge of the Beatles’ songs, so he suddenly has a cache of surefire hits that can, and do, take him on a rapid rise to superstardom.
Director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting) manages to keep the film from sliding too far into the realms of the usual mawkish rom-com purgatory by ensuring it is a well-paced romp and he maintains a deft balance between the film’s gentle humour and its subtle exploration of the destructive aspects of human ambition.
Lily James (Baby Driver, Mamma Mia 2) plays Jack’s love interest, Ellie Appleton, who has been his number one fan – and manager – since their high school years. James’ performance is wonderful, her character is appealingly, and poignantly, stoic and patient as she waits for Jack to recognise his true feelings for her.
There are more than just a few formulaic elements at work here. For instance, the bumbling sidekick role played by Joel Fry (Game Of Thrones) is very reminiscent of Rhys Ifans’ similar role as the well-meaning buffoon mate to Hugh Grant’s character in Notting Hill, but it is a tried and true approach that always works within a storyline such as this one, so why not roll it out one more time?
The versions of the well-known songs used here are fairly pedestrian, and some of the worst examples are used (Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, for goodness sake!!), but I think maybe that is part of the point being made here – the songs are so well-crafted, and keyed to insinuate their way into your psyche, that they will successfully connect with an audience no matter how essentially talentless the performer who adds them to their setlist may be.
The moral conundrum around stealing other peoples’ intellectual property and passing it off as your own sits at the heart of the film’s dramatic core, and whilst the outcome is fairly predictable, the film’s catalyst for Jack making his final decision on this point has stirred some controversy, so it’s worth seeing what the film’s creators have come up with in this respect – and it certainly does cause a momentary and surprising shock of recognition when it arrives.
Overall, Yesterday is a slick piece of British romantic comedy hokum which, even though it seems to work on most levels, still leaves the viewer with a discernible sense of disappointment as the credits roll. Underwhelming fun.
Yesterday is now screening at cinemas across Adelaide.