Monday, 24 June 2019

Review: Yesterday (part one, spoiler-free)

Yesterday (part one of two, spoiler-free)
Cert: 12A / 116 mins / Dir. Danny Boyle / Trailer

There are certain movies where you know you need that soundtrack before the ink has dried on the first act. Inside Llewyn Davis is one, so is Sing Street. And now Yesterday joins that list. And it's not just because of the tracklisting (who doesn't already know that The Beatles are fantastic?), but rather the performance of the songs in the movie*1. But I'm getting ahead of myself.


Yesterday follows Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), a 27yr old aspiring singer/songwriter from Suffolk who works in a discount supermarket by day and plays largely audience-free gigs by night. Downhearted, Jack is on the verge of quitting and returning to his old job of teaching, much to the annoyance of his friend/agent/manager Ellie (Lily James). But when cycling home one night, a far-reaching power blackout sees Jack involved in a serious road accident.

When he awakes in hospital, all seems normal (other than bruises and the abscence of a couple of teeth), but it quickly becomes apparent that nobody except Jack has ever heard of The Beatles. How has this happened? More to the point, what can be done? Armed with an acoustic guitar and a fairly encyclopaedic memory of lyrics and chord structures, it seems that our hero's musical career is now set on a solid path. Because what can go wrong when you're just invented some of the greatest songs of all time?*2


Yes, writer Richard Curtis returns to our screens with the utterly fantastical proposition that anyone could know Lily James socially, and not spend all their time in her presence basically crying because they're so utterly in love. James and Patel are fantastic, the dual-pivot around which the entire movie hangs. Himesh gets the lion's share of the screen-time in jetting to America for the big time of course, but carries it off effortlessly, every bit as charming when he's speaking as when he's singing.

And it's not just the leads who do well here. The movie is filled with a cast who are happy just to be a supporting part of something much bigger (am I the only one who grinned like an idiot when Meera Syal and Sanjeev Bhaskar are introduced Jack's parents? It'd arguably be lazy casting if the pair of them weren't so fantastic to begin with). I never thought I'd see the day where I genuinely enjoyed a vehicle carrying Ed Sheeran and James Corden, yet here we are*3.


The script is occasionally ungainly but of course yes, it's Richard Curtis, so the whole thing ultimately runs like it's on rails. Wasting little time, the film begins with an air of Quantum Leap or Tales of The Unexpected, albeit for an audience who want absolutely no surprises. The sub-plot with Justin Edwards’ and Sarah Lancashire's characters is thoroughly and mercilessly telegraphed, then largely unexplored save for one wish-fulfilment scene that feels slightly tacked on.

But if you've come for the music of The Beatles, you won't be disappointed. Then again, you might. While Patel's central turn here is outstanding, it's notable that we don't get any complete renditions of songs, more a 'greatest clips' selection to facilitate a realistic runtime and higher turnover of titles (read: soundtrack sales). Then again, The Beatles have long been a business rather than an artistic endeavour, so maybe that's to be expected. And because the soundtrack is based almost exclusively on their work, at least we're spared the pantomime of director Danny Boyle gleefully hitting shuffle on his iPod as if he's trying to impress a girl in the year above. But I digress.


Elsewhere we get a baffling assortment of on-screen graphics throughout the movie featuring famous song titles and place-names, like it's been produced in conjunction with the Liverpool Tourist Board and designed by the work-experience kid. And who knew Ed Sheeran can't act? Well everyone, now. In line with the narrative, we get a lengthy stretch telling us how vapid and superficial the music industry is once money becomes involved (but not the movies though, eh Richard?) before things reach an end which is emotionally satisfying but makes no sense when put under scrutiny.

But I'll write more about that in my second review.
Because despite my gripes I love this flick and I want to see it again.

Yesterday has been precision-engineered to appeal to the broadest, safest possible audience, and is often so clunkingly on-the-nose that I'd normally want to fire it into the heart of the sun. And once the inevitable mainstream gushing occurs upon the film's general release, maybe I'll feel that way still.

But right now? Yesterday is pretty magnificent.
If the cast don't melt your heart, the soundtrack will.

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
If you enjoyed About Time, you'll dig this immensely.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
It is.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
It's probably going to be one to buy once the price comes down, although at the same time I rather suspect that this film will have a long life on broadcast television.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Everyone involved can be very, very proud of this.*4

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Unlikely, although I will start a lengthy conversation with you about causality. You have been warned.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Well technically, Young Lando Calrissian is in this. But if you're not going for that, so is the Guest At Dryden Vos' Pad dude.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 I'm talking about diegetic/performance albums by the way, not film scores or those ones where the soundtrack is a compilation of pre-existing tracks. Because as magnificent as the Dusk Till Dawn CD is, who among us hasn't eagerly rushed out to buy things like The Crow only to discover two - maybe three - decent tracks on it and the rest being absolute filler? And any OST boasting the words ”Music Inspired By The Film" can do one as well, frankly. If a band's song isn't good enough to make the final edit of the movie, I don't see why it should be included on the tie-in material. There. I said it. [ BACK ]

*2 Although as Christina Martin recently noted, "Gary Sparrow already fully explored the Yesterday movie concept".
Goodnight Sweetheart is at the core of my idea for bringing Dad's Army into the MCU anyway, so I'm delighted it's starting to catch on. Besides, now it'd make the time-travel element of Endgame a lot more fluid. Has anyone got Nicholas Lyndhurst’s number? [ BACK ]

*3 Hey, at least P*ers M*rgan has been confined to a cameo in the new Men In Black movie. A guest appearance on, as it turns out, precisely the platform he deserves... #Meow [ BACK ]

*4 Apart from Sheeran and Corden obviously, who should spend every remaining breath apologising for everything beforehand. WHAT? [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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