Yesterday: film review

I loathed Four weddings and a funeral. And the clips I’ve seen of Love actually don’t inspire me to sit through the whole film. So, I may not be the best person to review Yesterday, the latest offering from writer Richard Curtiss. Although I did like Notting Hill and I loved the criminally underrated Steve Jobs by director Danny Boyle so I’m not completely biased.

Here’s the premise: Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is an unsuccessful wannabe singer living in Lowestoft. He plays to tiny, indifferent audiences, if he gets any gigs at all and has only one song he’s written which his small group of friends like. He works in a warehouse to make ends meet and is acutely aware that his ambitions are something of a joke among those who know him, including his family.
Inexplicably, his friend since childhood, Ellie (Lily James) believes in him. She’s a teacher by day and multi tasks in the evenings and at weekends as his manager, agent and driver. The real reason is, she’s been secretly in love with him since they were seven but knows that she’s firmly in the ‘ mates’ column for Jack not the ‘crazy in love with her’ one where she wants to be.
Jack is on the verge of packing it all in and going back into teaching when a worldwide electric power cut results in him being knocked off his bike and hitting his head.
When he wakes up he discovers that he is the only person who remembers The Beatles. Faced with the temptation of claiming their back catalogue as his own and being hailed as a musical genius, he takes it. Global fame and fortune await.

Will Jack choose LA and fame or Lowestoft and Ellie?

Is he willing to succeed if it means living a lie?

Then there’s always the small matter of someone somewhere knowing the truth and calling him out….. what if Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr show up?

The idea of only one man remembering the Beatles featured in tv sitcom Goodnight Sweetheart but here it gets the big screen treatment with much lauded director Danny Boyle at the helm.

So, what’s my verdict? Does the film make me wanna hold Patel’s hand or does it make me twist and shout in fury?

Yesterday is an attempt at a good natured, feel good, crowd pleasing musical rom/com. At points it succeeds and delivers a few decent laughs. Otherwise it’s the usual Richard Curtiss cringe-fest of cute romance and an England which only exists in the minds of the luvvie circles that inhabit Islington and spend weekends in their cottage in the Cotswolds.

What works
The music, of course : We get to hear snippets of some the greatest pop songs ever written (even though they’re wasted on this trite story)
Ed Sheeran : He plays himself, a local Suffolk boy, who recognises the quality of the song writing and invites Malik to be his support act on a tour. Sheeran acquits himself well and comes across as a good sport.
The pushy American manager played with relish by Kate McKinnon: She’s the best thing in the film and has some zinger one liners.
It’s a nice, fluffy film: And there’s nothing wrong with that. At all.

There is one unexpected and genuinely moving moment towards the end of the film, a ‘twist’ if you like and it’s lovely.

What doesn’t work
Himesh Patel: Sorry, but he just doesn’t have the charisma or charm needed to carry a big screen film. He does a respectable job of the singing but his voice is not distinctive or memorable and he never lifts the character beyond the limp loser he is meant to be at the beginning, even when he’s a big shot and Ellie falsely tells him he has ‘changed beyond recognition’.

Lily James’ excess energy which she has carried over from Mamma Mia 2: There, it was just about bearable because of the sunshine, idyllic Greek backdrop and ABBA songs. In Lowestoft it’s just annoying and over the top. Can someone please tell young actresses that laughing uproariously and flapping your arms around at mildly amusing (if that) moments in the story do not make you come across as ‘fun’ or ‘Bohemian’, just tiresome.

The political correctness. *sigh*: Yes, I know, diversity is the big thing in casting at the moment but it should serve the story in some way.  On the positive side it’s good that there’s a South Asian in the lead role of a mainstream film. Too often ‘diversity’ now is black and white only. Filmmakers stick an African American in a role and think the job is done. Asians and Latinos are ignored despite a potentially huge consumer market.

That said, there is no obvious need for Jack to be South Asian in this story, other than to make white luvvies feel good about themselves. Yes, I know it’s supposed to be about colour blind casting but Patel, Sanjeev Bhaskar and Meera Syal all stick out like sore thumbs in this effort because they’re essentially playing characters that were plainly written as white suburban types. All three are fine in their respective roles but there is nothing remotely Asian about any of them. From their names to their home they are basically a white English family from a cosy 1970s sitcom. Some comedy could have been found in the parents’ Asianness which might have drawn in a wider Asian audience but everyone is so terrified of being called ‘racist’ (not actually being racist, just being called it) it stifles any creativity there might have been. This is diversity casting for the sake of it and to look good.
The ‘romance’:  It doesn’t work. There is zero chemistry between Lily James and Patel.

James Corden: Filmmakers, please stop foisting him on us.

Overall, even though it’s meant to be a light and fun film, there’s an amateurish quality to it which is unexpected from such an illustrious director and experienced writer. It feels like a good first feature rather than a big film from such an experienced and successful group of filmmakers.

I didn’t hate it. Some parts were enjpyable. It just could have been so good and it isn’t.