As cinema continues to bask in the best music of the 60s, 70s and 80s, we now get a high-concept appreciation of The Beatles. Avoiding the biopic route of the likes of Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman, Yesterday instead hits on a sort-of alternate reality, soft sci-fi approach that is consistently entertaining whilst never quite successfully portraying why the Beatles are such an incredible band.
Yesterday focuses on Jack Malik, a struggling musician who seems to be coming to the end of his journey in the music industry. Cycling home from his last gig, he finds himself in the middle of global blackout and is promptly hit by a bus. Jack awakes to find himself in a world that has never experienced the work of The Beatles, and takes it upon himself to introduce these songs, finding fame and success that whisks him away from the people he loves.
Himesh Patel manages to make Jack a mostly likeable figure. He benefits from a script that is happier to focus in on the overwhelming nature of Jack's task, than the potentially dubious reasoning behind it. Hidden behind the high concept of Yesterday's narrative is a sweetly drawn romance that works entirely as you'd expect it to. It helps that there is oodles of chemistry between Patel and Lily James, which manages to just about hold it together despite the predictable nature of their story. In general James is a charming presence, even if she is lumbered with a poorly written supporting part. There are other fun performances in Yesterday, with Meera Syal and Sanjeev Bhaskar having a blast as Jack's parents, whilst Joel Fry fits comfortably into the 'loveable' buffoon template (a firm staple of Curtis' work). Even Ed Sheeran manages to come out of his extended cameo unscathed.
What the film is lacking is that inventive spark that marks the very best of director Danny Boyle's work. There are occasionally visually inventive sequences but for the most part the film suffers due to a visual blandness that marks it very much as a British comedy. When you dwell on how Dexter Fletcher turned Rocketman into a gorgeous, full-blooded musical you realise what is missing from Yesterday.
The film plays out mostly as expected of the Richard Curtis rom com that it is. It is not as egregious as Love Actually but does lack the transcendent quality that made About Time stand above the writer's consistent literary flaws. It is strange how seemingly lacking in drama Yesterday is, with the film more comfortable to bask in the obvious qualities of The Beatles' back catalogue. But when the songs are this good, it is surely worth the journey.