When a premise catches your eyes, it simply cannot be ignored. Yesterday had me hooked with an interesting concept that I must see unravel. Arguably the two big filmmaking names attached to this film are Richard Curtis, one of the most successful romantic comedy screenwriters working and fellow Mancunian director Danny Boyle working on what is essentially a “what if…” scenario. What makes it so eye-catching is that at some point, everyone will have thought of some kind of “what if…” scenario and Yesterday is out to express just one of those with a pinch of romance for good measure. The issue I have with it is that Yesterday juggles with two separate storylines, which should be simple enough, yet it comes across as unbalanced with each having to make deep wounding compromises.
Before we move on to the compromises, I first want to acknowledge a strong, feature film debut performance from Himesh Patel as Jack Malik. You constantly want to know how far this character willing is to push this miracle he’s been given, regardless of how utterly impossible it would be in the real world. Himesh fits comfortably in the leading role but he is even more comfortable in his vocal performances. He has a great voice which is the current that carries this Beatles nostalgia. This film could easily be the opening of the gates for a bright film career for him.
The moment Ed Sheeran appears for his third appearance playing himself, I could see the doubt on anyone who’s watched his Game of Thrones appearance. Surprisingly, I felt that this was one of the more stronger playing yourself roles I’ve seen. If you’ve ever seen a film where the star plays themselves, they always seem to play an overexaggerated image of themselves and not the person. In the case of Ed Sheeran, you believe his personality from the get-go. He’s also a smart performer, he knows when other acting skills have to come into play during certain scenes, there is a good dramatic moment when he and Jack have a songwriting contest to which he admits defeat.
The term “feel good” is seasonal and is often slapped on films around the summer period. I think people are split into sides when it comes to these films, there is one side that wants emotional depth which often there isn’t so it leaves them feeling frustrated, the other judge the film solely on how relaxed it makes you feel. Yesterday does both of these which is going to be very divisive. But there is no denying that the film does exactly what it says on the tin, Yesterday is a very relaxing watch, yet at the same time, it’s very distracting to find holes in the setup world.
I suppose my feeling towards Yesterday is one of disappointment, but not in the traditional sense. I feel let-down because I wanted this film to be something greater instead of being on that edge of the good/mediocre level. The biggest infliction of the film is that it feels as though it has cut back on a lot of things, almost like it was riding on the wave of a good premise too much. Firstly, I would say the film cinematography and editing are closely liked together for their own downfall. Stylistically, Yesterday is all over the place, you have dream sequences, dutch camera angles that are tilted way too much and one scene, in particular, is Jack Malik in an obvious bluescreen room witnessing his own virality through social media. It wants to mishmash all these different elements that come across as jarring without consistency.
By the time the credits rolled I was trying to understand the films primary story. Jack’s rise to fame and the romance storylines are well written there is no doubt about that, something I would expect from Richard Curtis; however, they might have been written a little too well. The two feels like the central storylines in other films which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, but they are given the same amount of importance that it feels as though the two are jostling for center stage.
In this pushing and shoving of storylines, the meat of said storylines is vastly compromised. The romance may be stable, but there are a lot (but not all) of jokes in Yesterday that come across as awkward. It really is a mix-match affair, I found the banter between Jack and his friends authentic, yet the film also tries to capitalize on awkward comedy that has become an essential ingredient in the rom-com genre, however most of the awkwardness is carried on for far too long, like the dialogue between Ed Sheeran and Jack’s roadie Rocky (Joel Fry).
Some will argue that Yesterday’s strongest factor is also its weakest. I believe that the film pushed it in the wrong direction as it encourages nit-picking. It’s one of those moments in cinema when a film has big expectations but fails to meet them. Nevertheless, there is plenty to be pleased about, from the strong performances both vocal and acting, Beatles nostalgia and something that becomes easy to watch. Instead of Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da is more Ob-La-Meh.