Saturday, August 17, 2019
Yesterday: A Review (Review #1255)
When I heard the premise for the film Yesterday, I had two main thoughts. One: this was a variation on the jukebox musical, where we would get as many songs from one catalog into a film. Two: if The Beatles never existed, I think my life would not be impacted to the degree the trailers made it out be. Yesterday is like a cover band: it belt outs the hits but does not have any genuine originality.
It also suggests that Ed Sheeran is on the same level of creative brilliance as The Beatles, which is enough to warrant a negative review.
Unsuccessful singer/songwriter Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is finished with playing to uninterested audiences in small pubs and sparsely-attended tents at music festivals. Despite the urging of his manager/platonic friend Ellie (Lily James), Jack has decided to let his guitar gently weep.
On the fateful night he hangs it up, the power goes out throughout the world for 12 seconds. Jack is seriously injured by a bus during the blackout and wakes up around two weeks later. He quickly realizes that he is apparently the only person in the world who remembers any of The Beatles' songs. All his friends are astonished at the beauty of 'his new song' Yesterday, though as one points out to him, it's not Coldplay's Fix You.
With some quibbles, Jack decides to pass off The Beatles' whole catalogue (or as much as he can remember of it) as his own. This attracts the attention of Ed Sheeran (playing himself) and his manager Debra Hammer (Kate McKinnon). With his wacky friend Rocky (Joel Fry) as his roadie, Jack rises to greatness as the premiere singer/songwriter of all time.
Take THAT, Bob Dylan!
His success makes his relationship with Ellie tough as they have struggled to start a relationship despite their obvious romantic interest. Will Jack's rouse be discovered? Will Jack and Ellie end up together? Will Ed Sheeran keep fooling people he's actually good?
Yesterday seemed a bit haphazard, introducing elements to drop them or not bother with them again. Take for example Gavin (Alexander Arnold), the producer who first found Jack post-blackout. He is used as some kind of romantic threat when Ellie decides not to wait on Jack, then quickly dropped when Jack gives up his 'career'. It's almost a cliché: the boyfriend who is in so many ways right for the female but who is dumped at the last moment by the heroine to be with 'the real thing'.
As a side note, why would Coca-Cola disappear just because the Beatles weren't around? If I'm not mistaken, Coca-Cola predates The Fab Four by a good seventy years. I'm not so well-versed in Beatles minutia to understand that bit.
There is also the 'Ed Sheeran' bit. Let's leave aside the oddball idea that Ed Sheeran is some kind of musical genius: he's not. Yesterday suggests there's some kind of envy from Sheeran in seeing someone is superior to him in songwriting (and again I'd argue random homeless men with psychological issues would make better songwriters than Ed Sheeran, but I digress). However, soon after Sheeran is back, offering advise about changing the title from Hey Jude to Hey Dude.
Why screenwriter Richard Curtis thought this was a sign of wit I can't guess at, but it isn't. Neither is the suggestion that Jack would have had the exact success that John, Paul, George & Ringo would have based on the songs alone. Curtis does have a clever bit about how Jack got some lyrics wrong, but other elements are almost ghastly.
Without giving too much away, Jack and two other fans didn't seem to care where George Harrison was or even if he was alive.
Yesterday can't get away from the trappings that plague many a rom-com. There's the wacky bestie. There's the couple we know will end up together but has unimportant impediments. There's whatever Kate McKinnon was supposed to be.
We had some bad performances here. McKinnon was not only pointless she seemed to act as if she didn't know whether she was meant to be serious or over-the-top so apparently she opted to try and play it both ways simultaneously. James was so boring and uninteresting I was nodding off when she came across. Sure, I figure Ed Sheeran had a blast playing a campy version of himself, but I don't like his alleged music, so why would I even care that he was here.
Patel, however, was much better as Jack, a mixture of almost Woody Allen neurotic and sincere man. He seemed to struggle when attempting to be harsh, as if he is just too nice to be demanding or forceful. However, he has enough charm and a pleasant demeanor to convince you he could be this bumbling but basically decent figure.
Yesterday asks a lot from its audience, and if you like the music you may like it more. However, I was not won over and one wonders: would a world without Oasis really be that bad?
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