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EIFF 2019: Yesterday (2019) directed by Danny Boyle

N.B. This film is showing at the Edinburgh International Film Festival on Thursday 20th June 2019 and is going on a wide UK release shortly afterwards.

A parallel universe where The Beatles never existed

Himesh Patel plays Jack Malik, an English singer-songwriter who struggles to attract any recognition despite the devoted support of his best friend and manager Ellie (Lily James). When his appearance at a music festival receives a rather apathetic reception, he decides that it is time to throw the towel in.

That night, fate intervenes as the entire world is plunged into a power blackout for several seconds - during which Jack, riding his bike, collides with an unseen bus. When he regains consciousness, he finds himself awoken by Ellie on a hospital bed. He missing two front teeth and his beard but is otherwise remarkably unscathed. Soon, however, he discovers that something else is amiss; it seems that none of his friends have ever heard of The Beatles. Only the most famous pop band in history!

When he goes home and finds that an internet search returns nothing but “beetle” and that his vinyl collection is conspicuously missing any of their records, he comes to the conclusion that he has somehow ended up in a parallel universe where the Fab Four never existed. He soon hits upon a cunning plan: to reconstruct the band’s classic songs from memory and pass them off as his own, thus providing him with a route to the fame and fortune that has eluded him thus far.

Watch a trailer:

A pleasant but predictable take on a cute concept

Yesterday has a uniquely charming premise which it capitalises on rather well - at least initially. The scenes revolving around the whole alternate reality concept (whereby the world’s most iconic pop band is suddenly scrubbed from the annals of history) are handled with a sharp wit and imaginative sense of detail.

Unfortunately, you can only take this intriguing concept alone so far. Once it reaches the inevitable point where it has to get on with building an actual story upon such a notion, Yesterday becomes hokey and beat-for-beat predictable. Our protagonist shooting to fame on the back of The Beatles’ legendary back catalogue? Check. Him discovering that his resultant brush with superstardom really isn’t all that? Check. Moreover - him learning that his female best buddy has harboured feelings towards him over and above the platonic? Check. It’s the latter element which really drags the second half down via a strong helping of treacly sentimentality and a glaringly contrived dilemma. To add to the film’s shortcomings, Ed Sheeran (playing himself) has a significant role in the story’s developments. Yes, Ed fucking Sheeran. Why make a movie related to one of the finest musical acts in history and provide a central role to one of the most stultifyingly bland? Why?

Himesh Patel in Yesterday

Having said all that, even though Yesterday’s troubles are never far away (see what I did there?), it just about gets by on its own inoffensive sweetness. Himesh Patel makes for an amiable enough lead, Trainspotting director Danny Boyle lends his usual colourful visual flair to the proceedings and Kate McKinnon’s role as a blatantly all-business Los Angeles recording producer brings a gentle dash of music business satire to the second half (it doesn’t cut too deep but it does, nonetheless, raise a few smiles).

All in all, as long as you aren’t one of those über-cynical types, you will probably have a pleasant enough time with Yesterday. You’ll likely sit back, enjoy the premise and forgive the fact that the plot feels so obviously by-the-numbers. Just don’t expect a Trainspotting - or even a T2 Trainspotting, for that matter.

Runtime: 116 mins

Dir: Danny Boyle

Script: Richard Curtis, Jack Barth

Starring: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Kate McKinnon, Joel Fry, Meera Syal, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Ed Sheeran, James Corden

Rating: ☆☆☆

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