Cine Outsider header
front page    disc reviews    film reviews    articles    interviews  
Hey, pseud
"Scrambled eggs... oh my baby, how I love your legs..." was the placeholder lyric for the most covered and arguably the most famous song in the world. Its eventual title is also that of Richard Curtis' and Danny Boyle's movie love-letter to the Beatles, YESTERDAY. Camus wonders why she had to go... (she wouldn't say).
  "I tried to be very responsible about casting. It's a lot of money to use Beatles songs and you have a responsibility to try and earn it back. Universal had success with Lily James in Mama Mia 2, so she gave the studio some reassurance that we weren’t making a private film about the Beatles. We wanted to share it with as many people as possible."
  Director Danny Boyle on casting Yesterday*


I just spent forty minutes writing an opening paragraph effectively apologising for liking the work of Richard Curtis. Screw it. My apologies, Richard. The aloof, cool and cynical out there may sneer at his sentimental streak, one so wide you could land Trump's narcissism on it (just) but his work simply speaks volumes to me. Let's not forget the great programmes he honed his comic chops on in the eighties. He had a hand in every Black Adder script, wrote for Spittin' Image and delivered some of Not The Nine O'Clock News' best material. Perhaps I'd better not mention Mr. Bean. Not my thing despite my respect for Rowan Atkinson. Yes, English middle-class privilege runs through his movie characters like sugared words in seaside rock and you either accept this and simply go with it or don't go. That said, Yesterday is a bit of a departure with a clearly working class protagonist. As mainstream romantic comedies go, for me Notting Hill is pitch perfect, detractors aside. Detractors gonna detract. Curtis is primarily a writer who turned to directing because it's another way of protecting his work (which is not to degrade his excellent helming of Love, Actually, The Boat That Rocked and About Time) but for Yesterday, Danny Boyle came on board because of Curtis' extreme closeness to his subject (and the fear that his direction may indulgently skewer the film). Let's not forget Boyle's sudden availability after his take on Bond 25 went south. Bold move. Boyle always has directorial surprises up his sleeve well matched and complimented by editor Jon Harris. There has been a significant and striking sense in the press that Curtis and Boyle were an odd fit. I can understand that – it's like Hugh Grant teaming up with Robert Carlyle – but it works. Oh, yes. It works.

Himesh Patel as Jack Malik

For those of you unfamiliar with the thrust of the narrative, all I can say is "Really?" Look at the poster. It's all there. But then I have to remember that I skew significantly older than those powering the culture forward at the moment. The ex-skiffle, pop and experimental four-man band, the Beatles were possibly the most famous people on the planet in the 60s, "bigger than Jesus," as John Lennon once said. He wasn't wrong but paid in burnt vinyl across the US mid-west for the arguably true but perhaps crass remark. While fame never guarantees quality, it is globally considered that some of the Beatles' work is song writing of the very highest calibre. Their influence on almost all aspects of culture was considerable and the less than fab four bullet shots fired into Lennon's back on a cold December evening in 1980, a decade after the band's split, put a morbid but definitive line under the history of the 'fab four'. They had enjoyed a tumultuous decade starting with years on the road where they honed their craft and midway they blossomed into a run of creative work that still awes me. Needless to say, Yesterday has prompted another reappraisal of their music. And it is still just glorious. The movie is an enormous ad for the band's work, which makes it seem a little mean spirited that the filmmakers had to pay such high prices to cover the songs. Anyway, weird stuff happens, lights go off all over the world sending failed folk singer Jack Malik into the side of a bus. On waking up in hospital he slowly realises that he is the only person who knows who the Beatles were as they seem to have been wiped from existence. This is not strictly true but the few others who remember the band... I'll let you have that fun for yourselves. What's a singer to do faced with a Beatle-less world? An early scene really affected me in such a surprising way. I know, as does half the world, McCartney's Yesterday by heart but as I sat there watching Jack strum it out just for his friends, and seeing those disbelieving faces suddenly realise the genius of this song... God, I'm getting emotional just typing those words. It's the cultural weight of that beautiful ballad's reputation, which suddenly lands in front of people who can somehow recognise how good it actually is/was. I discussed this issue with my loved one who hit the nail squarely on the head. It's not the voice, the instrument playing or even the actual lyric although each aspect is important in itself. It's the emotion that travels from the very centre of the artist behind it right to the heart of the audience. Music does this in a way other artistic disciplines simply cannot. Tell me you don't start welling up after the first few lines from Prince's sublime Nothing Compares To U? Sinead O'Connor's version tells me all I need to know about her dramatic talent. It's that emotional current and we can be electrified by it.

I wrote about tastemakers a few years ago, here. In order for quality to thrive or even have a moment in the sun, someone, somewhere has got to recognise it. I grew up believing that classics were just classics. I mean War and Peace is a classic novel, right? Well, there was a time when this classic didn't exist. The weight of learned and unlearned opinion and time define a classic and it's all just opinion, human opinion. We know how fickle that animal can be, right? But great artists weather those storms. Great artistic leaps forward are often greeted with outright revulsion; Stravinsky's ballet of The Rite of Spring springs to mind. There were 'hostile demonstrations' at its premiere. And Lolita was slammed by the New York Times as being "dull, dull, dull," and I can assure you, having read it recently, it's an extraordinary novel, a masterpiece even. Psycho was also treated with disdain by the New York Times... "his denouement falls quite flat for us." Yesterday the movie is so confident of the brilliance of the Beatles' song writing that their work even shines sung by a modest singer and can be recognised by almost everyone who comes into contact with it with the exception of the singer's own family but ain't that always the way. Co-star Ed Sheeran wisely reminded Boyle to keep Himesh Patel's voice as unfiltered as possible. 'Soul' is beyond electronic capability. Smart man. Curtis the writer is deifying his idols, not unsurprisingly, making their work be so outstanding than anyone would be floored by it. If any artists deserved that much assurance, then it's John, Paul, George and Ringo. Of course I'm biased. My childhood was infused with the band though I had to rediscover the iconic albums. My pre-teen musical taste was anything with a beat I could move to.

Himesh Patel as Jack Malik and Lily James as Ellie

Add to this delirious mix of world-class music, some charming and natural performances that appear effortless. Patel as Jack Malik grounds the film with a downtrodden affability that is never pitiful. He even tries to be practical some of the time but is beaten back into dreamland by his close friend and manager, Lily James as Ellie. She's grounded as he takes flight, flying on the soaring currents of others' genius but even though her feet are on the ground taking her maths class, her yearning stays with us. It's clear that this seemingly sibling dynamic is from moment one heading somewhere a little more romantic. Ladies and gentlemen, Jack and Ellie, surely... This brings us as an aside to a director's nightmare. What if you cast someone in a role and they are so effective that they unbalance the narrative? I worked on a film in which the director had to write an embarrassing letter of apology to a character actor whose role had been excised from the cut. The director had gone to some length to secure the actor's participation in the first place. That's a special kind of hell. Well, how glad was I to see Ana de Armas in Yesterday's trailers. I had adored her in her break out role as Joi in Blade Runner 2049. But alas, the James Corden US chat show scene appeared and then, no Ana... It seems that the success of her emotional connection with the hero dented audience sympathies with Jack thinking that if his eyes can stray towards Ana, he can't be true to Lily. In movie-world, OK. In real life, things are a little muddier. I have no interest in setting two gorgeous actors against each other but Curtis elaborated that the song choice may have been a factor. When you have this lyric directed at a woman the hero is not supposed to be attracted to, then you have a Lennon/McCartney shaped problem to deal with...

"Something in the way she moves
Attracts me like no other lover
Something in the way she woos me
I don't want to leave her now
You know I believe and how..."

So Ana was out. We are assured her work will be on the Blu-ray.

From the first teasers and news about this film, I was concerned about one thing and almost obsessed with this one thing only. The ending. If you set up a world in which the Beatles never existed, you have to pay it off, or return to reality, wake up and it's all a dream, or some such variation of that terrible cliché. Rest assured. Once we are in No-Beatle world, we stay there and events happen according to the rules of that universe. Thank you, Richard. There are some lovely surprises (two in particular, the second following directly on from the first) and there's a Trainspotting link, which would be naughty for me to spoil, but I only found out it was a Trainspotting link after the fact, as the effect of the 'spoiler' was so authentic. If you're a Beatles fan, there are seventeen covers to enjoy as well as Curtis' incisive, kind humour and romantic leanings. Let's not diminish Danny Boyle's contribution, an idiosyncratic talent, terrific with his cast (sorry Ana) and his creative choices are spot on. Oh, and the Beatles are not the only thing missing from the alternate world. But saying anymore would spoil the fun.



Yesterday poster

UK | USA 2019
116 mins
directed by
Danny Boyle
produced by
Bernard Bellew
Tim Bevan
Danny Boyle
Richard Curtis
Eric Fellner
Matthew James Wilkinson
written by
Richard Curtis
story by
Jack Barth
Richard Curtis
Christopher Ross
Jon Harris
Daniel Pemberton
production design
Patrick Rolfe
Himesh Patel
Lily James
Sophia Di Martino
Ellise Chappell
Meera Syal
Harry Michell
Vincent Franklin

UK distributor
Universal Pictures International
UK release date
28 June 2019
review posted
4 July 2019

See all of Camus' reviews