A singer finds himself in a world where the Beatles never existed. This means he can sing their songs without fear of being accused of plagiarism – or sued for breach of copyright. Who could have dreamt up an idea like that? Either he deserves a special award or he needs to get out more.
The film’s director, Danny Boyle, has built much of his career around similarly loony precepts. Having the cutesie Richard Curtis riding shotgun as his screenwriter grounds him. It’s a marriage made in both heaven and hell – a bit like a latterday merger of Quentin Tarantino and Frank Capra.
Curtis gives Boyle the anchor he probably wouldn’t otherwise have had to make the film palatable to the middle-of-the-road audiences that were always going to be its main target, audiences perhaps as twee as the Liverpudlian Mopheads themselves.
Anti-hero Jack Malik is played endearingly by British indian actor Himesh Patel. He’s been pounding the Suffolk streets as a busker for nigh on a decade, his career going nowhere fast. In fact if it wasn’t for the encouragement of his friend Ellie (the ever-delightful Lily James) he’d probably have thrown in the towel years ago.
But then he gets hit by a bus. At that exact moment, as luck would have it, the world undergoes a power cut. Cue a Beatles airbrush in the collective global psyche. It’s the greatest non-sequitur in cinema history.
After some desperate attempts to convince his friends he didn’t write Yesterday’ etc., Jack decides to make hay while the sun shines. The universal amnesia persists as he goes around the world wowing audiences. Beatlemania morphs into Malikmania for the unlikely opportunist.
Can he remember the lyrics of evergreen numbers without the help of Google? Or sheet music? If he can, he stands to finally attain the fame that’s been eluding him for so long.
The stage is set for him to give his career the shot in the arm it sorely needs. As John Lennon said, it’s just like Starting Over. (This might have been a more appropriate title for the film).
Yesterday is a single-idea movie that’s so nonsensical you have to pinch yourself at times to convince yourself you’re actually buying it, thereby becoming as wacky as Messrs Boyle and Curtis combined.
But you do. Eventually you get roped into its lunacy – largely due to the conviction of Malik.
Joel Frey plays his roadie. Kate McKinnon is the inevitable greedy agent. Also along for the ride is Ed Sheeran – a former busker himself – offering him the opportunity to “open” for him at concerts. And then having to face the fact that he’s being outclassed by the ingenue.
The romantic possibilities of the relationship between Jack and Ellie are unexplored. This is a pity. You can only take so much of him belting out hits to mesmerised audiences.
All you need is love? Maybe. And an enormous suspension of disbelief.