While I admired several moments of the high concept film Yesterday, it’s ultimately an odd mix of originality and a typical Hollywood playbook.
When the director of Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire, and 127 Hours takes the helm of a high-concept dramedy in which no one has ever heard of the greatest band of all time, I had high expectations that they may have really had something special on their hands. It turns out, they did, for a good portion of the time anyway. Danny Boyle’s latest has his typical moments of refreshing brilliance, but the film is ultimately uneven. Yesterday’s overly bloated romantic secondary plot sticks out like a sore thumb. This gives Boyle’s dramedy the feel that it had been tinkered with too often when they should have to just let it be.
Himesh Patel, better known for the British television series Damned, plays Jack Malik, who has taken the long and winding road of a struggling British singer/songwriter. He performs around various odd spots in the hopes of keeping his fading music career from vanishing. His manager, Ellie (Baby Driver‘s Lily James), obtains an invite to perform at a local music festival. The event is a failure, however, and he calls it quits, while then a worldwide blackout causes him to get hit by a bus. When he is released from the hospital, he finds out no one knows who The Beatles are or any of their hit songs and passes them off as his own.
In a world hell-bent on producing remakes, spin-offs, reboots, and the uber-lazy “re-imaginings”, Yesterday attempts to answer the call for those who are desperately seeking out original content. There are moments that surprise you, even whimsical, particularly by the end of the film that quench your thirst for something unusual and different. Yet, the screenplay by Love Actually and Four Weddings and a Funeral scribe Richard Curtis takes safe chances and typical plot turns at the film’s center that resorts to an ultra-generic love story that hardly helps highlight its original intentions that are beating around the bush.
Frankly, the screenplay feels like a holdover from the Y2K era that then tries to sandwich in a romantic storyline for a rising star in James that wasn’t part of the original narrative or was a minor role. The film would have been served better by some timely editing or being given more leeway to explore the worldwide loss of pop-culture, but it falls back on the same Hollywood formula without anything original to say on the subject. The result is an unusual mixed bag of emotions, leaving your approval of the experience on the fence.
That then gets us to the heart of the matter: did the makers of Yesterday really come together to create something original if it’s high concept is packed with the typical Hollywood fluffer-nutter? I would say no, but these are the times we live in and compromises have been made for mainstream filmmaking. Why combine a film with some genuine original moments that are also saddled with a playbook everyone knows is being followed step by step?
While Boyle’s film has some entertainment value, it comes down to a wasted opportunity whose artistic license was compromised by Hollywood’s systematic cliches. Is that a bad thing for the casual viewer? Maybe not, but if studios keep trying to force puzzles pieces that don’t work together like in Yesterday, can we really blame the ticket buyer for wanting franchise fare more than films with original creative thought? Reboots or reimaginings, what’s really needed is a reinvention.
M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.