Skip to main content

I hated it, but I wasn’t interested enough to listen to it again to find out why.

Yesterday
(2019)

(SPOILERS) Danny Boyle’s paean to The Beatles via a scenario where they – as a band, rather than the individuals themselves – have been winked out of existence during a power surge is a cute enough Mandela Effect conceit; only Himesh Patel, and eventually two others, have any recall of their existence. But the result, scripted by self-professed muso Richard Curtis – see The Boat That Rocked, or rather don’t – from a story by Jack Barth, is weak swill. Apparently $10m of Yesterday's $26m budget was spent securing rights to use the Fab Four’s songs, but you have to ask, was it really worth it to hear a bunch of bad covers?

That’s a bit harsh maybe – they’re entirely serviceable – but Patel so much inhabits the unexceptional everyman, right down to his musicianship skills, that there’s never any lustre to his appropriation of their output. I thought the movie might have been onto something early on when Patel’s Jack Malick recognises this, with fame proving elusive even armed with their back catalogue (give or take), but then Ed Sheeran pops up in the kind of self-serving cameo Extras was partial to – he makes himself out to be a bit of a twat, so emphasising what a really great guy he must actually be – and Jack is soon on the road to fame and glory.

The picture has a number of problems, not least that Curtis has nowhere interesting or insightful to take the conceit once he has set it up. Sure, there are some amusing gags about the other alterations to this universe – no Coke, no Harry Potter, most bizarrely no cigarettes – the best of which is the complete absence of Oasis (“That figures”), even if Curtis, as About Time proved, is much too lazy/not anal enough to engage in the full Butterfly Effect ramifications of one piece going awry (Bowie somehow emerges exactly the same, although we didn’t get to see the Young Americans album, which would surely have taken a significant hit). But we know how this is going to scan, that Jack will eventually admit to his deceit and get the girl back (Lily James as his devoted manager). There are no surprises, except maybe that the world doesn’t revert to its natural order at the end, but by then, you hardly care.

Curtis makes a big deal of the focus-group marketing that swarms Jack, perhaps suggesting there’s no way those iconic album titles and covers would be repeated now (or just that Jack’s a pushover?) Katie McKinnon shows up as a merciless agent, and has a few good lines (“I’ve never heard you say anything interesting before. I don’t know why tonight would be special” about sums up the lead), but Yesterday isn’t making the best use of her. Robert Carlyle makes a decent stab at elder John Lennon, but it’s also an annoyingly glib gesture (“It all turned out just… fab”); wittier might have been having Ringo turn out to be a world-famous solo artist. Crucially, there’s never any “high” as Jack eventually finds his success, such that the picture is somewhat stranded in internal unease once the switch has taken place. What follows is too predictable to invest in.

Added to which, Curtis stuffs Yesterday full of his usual romcom tropes – everyone is incredibly middleclass, regardless of their cultural identity; Joel Fry’s stoner buddy is essentially Rhys Ifans reincarnated – but the actual rom of it entirely fizzles. There’s no chemistry between Patel and James (there wasn’t between Hugh Grant and Andie McDowell either, but there was enough else going on to keep Four Weddings and a Funeral fun), so there’s nothing hanging on their eventual reunion.

I’m guessing “It’s not bloody Fix You, Carol! It’s a great, great work of art” came about after Chris Martin turned down the role Sheeran took. He in turn receives a “No, leave it to the brothers” regarding his rapping and the blame for Jack changing Hey Jude to Hey Dude. James Corden appears, virtually guaranteeing the picture’s mediocrity. Yesterday, like so much of Curtis’ latter-day output is nothing if not that, content to coast on its likeably tepid averageness.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

He’s so persistent! He always gets his man.

Speed (1994) (SPOILERS) It must have been a couple of decades since I last viewed Speed all the way through, so it’s pleasing to confirm that it holds up. Sure, Jan de Bont’s debut as a director can’t compete with the work of John McTiernan, for whom he acted as cinematographer and who recommended de Bont when he passed on the picture, but he nevertheless does a more than competent work. Which makes his later turkeys all the more tragic. And Keanu and Sandra Bullock display the kind of effortless chemistry you can’t put a price tag on. And then there’s Dennis Hopper, having a great old sober-but-still-looning time.

How would Horatio Alger have handled this situation?

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) (SPOILERS) Gilliam’s last great movie – The Zero Theorem (2013) is definitely underrated, but I don’t think it’s that underrated – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas could easily have been too much. At times it is, but in such instances, intentionally so. The combination of a visual stylist and Hunter S Thompson’s embellished, propulsive turn of phrase turns out, for the most part, to be a cosmically aligned affair, embracing the anarchic abandon of Raoul Duke and Doctor Gonzo’s Las Vegas debauch while contriving to pull back at crucial junctures in order to engender a perspective on all this hedonism. Would Alex Cox, who exited stage left, making way for the Python, have produced something interesting? I suspect, ironically, he would have diluted Thompson in favour of whatever commentary preoccupied him at the time (indeed, Johnny Depp said as much: “ Cox had this great material to work with and he took it and he added his own stuff to it ”). Plus

But everything is wonderful. We are in Paris.

Cold War (2018) (SPOILERS) Pawel Pawlikowski’s elliptical tale – you can’t discuss Cold War without saying “elliptical” at least once – of frustrated love charts a course that almost seems to be a caricature of a certain brand of self-congratulatorily tragic European cinema. It was, it seems “ loosely inspired ” by his parents (I suspect I see where the looseness comes in), but there’s a sense of calculation to the progression of this love story against an inescapable political backdrop that rather diminishes it.

To survive a war, you gotta become war.

Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) (SPOILERS?) I’d like to say it’s mystifying that a film so bereft of merit as Rambo: First Blood Part II could have finished up the second biggest hit of 1985. It wouldn’t be as bad if it was, at minimum, a solid action movie, rather than an interminable bore. But the movie struck a chord somewhere, somehow. As much as the most successful picture of that year, Back to the Future , could be seen to suggest moviegoers do actually have really good taste, Rambo rather sends a message about how extensively regressive themes were embedding themselves in Reaganite, conservative ‘80s cinema (to be fair, this is something one can also read into Back to the Future ), be those ones of ill-conceived nostalgia or simple-minded jingoism, notional superiority and might. The difference between Stallone and Arnie movies starts right here; self-awareness. Audiences may have watched R ambo in the same way they would a Schwarzenegger picture, but I’m

You were a few blocks away? What’d you see it with, a telescope?

The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter’s first serial-killer screenplay to get made, The Eyes of Laura Mars came out nearly three months before Halloween. You know, the movie that made the director’s name. And then some. He wasn’t best pleased with the results of The Eyes of Laura Mars, which ended up co-credited to David Zelag Goodman ( Straw Dogs , Logan’s Run ) as part of an attempt by producer Jon Peters to manufacture a star vehicle for then-belle Barbra Streisand: “ The original script was very good, I thought. But it got shat upon ”. Which isn’t sour grapes on Carpenter’s part. The finished movie bears ready evidence of such tampering, not least in the reveal of the killer (different in Carpenter’s conception). Its best features are the so-uncleanly-you-can-taste-it 70s New York milieu and the guest cast, but even as an early example of the sub-genre, it’s burdened by all the failings inherit with this kind of fare.

No matter how innocent you are, or how hard you try, they’ll find you guilty.

The Wrong Man (1956) (SPOILERS) I hate to say it, but old Truffaut called it right on this one. More often than not showing obeisance to the might of Hitchcock during his career-spanning interview, the French critic turned director was surprisingly blunt when it came to The Wrong Man . He told Hitch “ your style, which has found its perfection in the fiction area, happens to be in total conflict with the aesthetics of the documentary and that contradiction is apparent throughout the picture ”. There’s also another, connected issue with this, one Hitch acknowledged: too much fidelity to the true story upon which the film is based.

The game is rigged, and it does not reward people who play by the rules.

Hustlers (2019) (SPOILERS) Sold as a female Goodfellas – to the extent that the producers had Scorsese in mind – this strippers-and-crime tale is actually a big, glossy puff piece, closer to Todd Phillips as fashioned by Lorene Scarfia. There are some attractive performances in Hustlers, notably from Constance Wu, but for all its “progressive” women work male objectification to their advantage posturing, it’s incredibly traditional and conservative deep down.

You don’t know anything about this man, and he knows everything about you.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) (SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s two-decades-later remake of his British original. It’s undoubtedly the better-known version, but as I noted in my review of the 1934 film, it is very far from the “ far superior ” production Truffaut tried to sell the director on during their interviews. Hitchcock would only be drawn – in typically quotable style – that “ the first version is the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional ”. For which, read a young, creatively fired director versus one clinically going through the motions, occasionally inspired by a shot or sequence but mostly lacking the will or drive that made the first The Man Who Knew Too Much such a pleasure from beginning to end.

I don't like the way Teddy Roosevelt is looking at me.

North by Northwest (1959) (SPOILERS) North by Northwest gets a lot of attention as a progenitor of the Bond formula, but that’s giving it far too little credit. Really, it’s the first modern blockbuster, paving the way for hundreds of slipshod, loosely plotted action movies built around set pieces rather than expertly devised narratives. That it delivers, and delivers so effortlessly, is a testament to Hitchcock, to writer Ernest Lehmann, and to a cast who make the entire implausible exercise such a delight.

What do they do, sing madrigals?

The Singing Detective (2003) Icon’s remake of the 1986 BBC serial, from a screenplay by Dennis Potter himself. The Singing Detective fares less well than Icon’s later adaptation of Edge of Darkness , even though it’s probably more faithful to Potter’s original. Perhaps the fault lies in the compression of six episodes into a feature running a quarter of that time, but the noir fantasy and childhood flashbacks fail to engage, and if the hospital reality scans better, it too suffers eventually.