The simple yet bizarre synopsis of Danny Boyle’s new film is deceptive in what it has to offer. Jack, a struggling musician who realises that no one has heard of The Beatles but him is certainly a quirky hook to draw in viewers. On the surface this premise seems like it will be a shallow comedy. Which it is at times, but this is Danny Boyle. There must be more to it, and there certainly is.
Yesterday features a script that varies in quality: at times it is quick-witted and funny, albeit in a generic way, but it puts a smile on your face. In other instances however it can be extremely excessive and lacking in nuance.
As Jack navigates the wonderfully weird world that features a few other oddities, he looks permanently confused. And it this look that provide the funniest moments, coming thick and fast from his friends who are relentless in their teasing.
When he plays a Beatles tune, they love it and ask when he wrote it. Waving off any compliments, his friends look at him, confused, not knowing what he is talking about.
‘The Beatles’?! Of course they are oblivious to the band’s genius and can’t help but laugh at the admittedly odd band name. Jack soon searches for ‘The Beatles’, only to find a wikipedia-like entry of a literal beetle. In shock, he tries different search strings only to find the same picture.
Indeed, it is a rather shallow set-up for a comedy revolving around this alternate reality that Jack needs to swallow. However, Yesterday has plenty of meat on its bones. Despite it being an amusingly ridiculous premise, Boyle uses Jack for more than laughs. Ready to quit after playing at children’s birthday parties among other amusing ‘venues’, it is clear that a point is being made about how music is seen in modern world, made obvious when he attempts to play a song to his parents who treat it as important as a television soap.
Incredibly exaggerated, this scene nails home the unfortunate point that, for many people in the world today, music is simply something to play in the background while working or chatting over a cup of tea. This isn’t to say that it is a negative character trait, but unlike decades past, music has inarguably devolved from a respected art-form to a capitalist based industry where image is more important than quality tunes.
This is where the concept of no one knowing of the The Beatles makes perfect sense, given the true love and admiration for The Beatles that no other band has ever come close to. When Jack makes his mark and becomes a part of the music industry, this concept is further explored, though again in an unfortunate exaggerated fashion.
Also hyperbolic, and shoehorned into the film, is a romantic sub-plot that is amazingly predictable and entirely unneeded. Given this and the humour-free exploration into the perception of music in the 21st century, it is far from surprising that second half of the film loses most of the laughs.
Ed Sheeran makes an appearance, and while a love or hate musician, it makes perfect sense for him to play a small role as there is nothing else to describe Sheeran’s music other than pop, and Jack is heading further towards this stain of a music genre and the absurd obligations that surround it.
Yesterday is a fantastically overblown depiction of how the industry has changed for the worse, while in contrast the film never loses sight of its seemingly silly premise that in reality makes perfect sense. Boyle certainly overdoes many scenes with a complete lack of subtlety, but it works… to some extent. What stings a little is that we all know that Boyle can certainly do better.