The Beatles. Danny Boyle. Richard Curtis. For fans of two or more of these, Yesterday is a must see. A struggling singer/songwriter finds himself the only one on earth who remembers The Beatles, and seizes the opportunity to claim their work as his own. So begins a light-hearted romcom with a killer soundtrack.
The problem is there’s nothing else to it. That simple premise is stretched across the two-hour runtime, with only a superficial romance for backup. Screenwriter Richard Curtis apparently thinks ‘All you Need is Love’ is more than a nice song, but an anthem to live by.
He has said as much in interviews, citing Beatles songs as inspiration for his career. “I was always over-interested in love. Maybe that’s why The Beatles struck such a chord.” But a good song about love doesn’t necessarily make a good story. A song can be a three-minute fantasy – a quick injection of ‘feel-good’. But a film needs substance to sustain it.
No attempt is made to flesh out the characters. They aren’t much more than caricatures made to spout Curtis’ usual platitudes. In his world love is something that can be both eternal and transient, all-conquering and a pushover. Such contradictions might be forgiven in a song, but in a film aiming to deliver a convincing happy ending they let the story down.
Director Danny Boyle’s usual energy and style are present, but muted. His apparent lack of enthusiasm is evident as he described Yesterday as “a perfectly workable and decent film with the most extraordinary music in the world”.
The Beatles, while obviously exceptional musicians who had an unparalleled impact on our culture, are given almost messianic status. Their songs are taken as transcendental wisdom, rather than just great music to appreciate. Combined with Curtis’ decision to have the main character misuse the name of Christ every few minutes, there’s more than a whiff of idolatry in the exaltation of the band.
Gripes aside, plenty of the jokes land well, and there is a certain innocent joy beyond the paint-by-numbers love story. How could there not be with songs like these?
★★★☆☆ Shallow but fun. Worth seeing for the music if nothing else.