Updated: Mar 19, 2020
Featuring music from a hugely successful rock band, an Oscar winner's direction and a screenplay by a certified hitmaker, the movie "Yesterday" promises much more than it delivers. Falling in the category of jukebox musical featuring a soundtrack of proven hits, "Yesterday" features a "Best of" song selection from The Beatles.
Its visual style comes from Danny Boyle, the groundbreaking director of "Trainspotting" who hit gold with the best picture winner "Slumdog Millionaire." But the movie's signature tone comes from Richard Curtis, who wrote "Love Actually." That conglomeration of romantic stories has turned into a Christmas perennial that generates an intense "Love It" or "Hate It" reaction on-line.
Or in my case, I love some of it and hate some too, a sensation replicated for me with "Yesterday." First off, I love the music, and director Boyle's decision to record it live. Boyle shows that a four-person band's famous works still sound good played simply by one man with a guitar, and newcomer Himesh Patel lives up to the musical demands. Patel gets good support from Downton Abbey's Lily James, Saturday Night Live's Kate McKinnon and songster Ed Sheeran, who plays himself with modest charm and humor. An edgy director always willing to experiment, Boyle makes a good counterpoint to writer Curtis, who often adds too much sugar to his plotting. Curtis also plays to pop sensibilities, emphasizing romantic comedy with fun songs that hit such basic concepts as "All You Need is Love."
Perhaps love provides enough, but sometimes I want a bit more, like some deeper insights about the Beatles and their impact on the world. With "Yesterday," Curtis envisions a universe that never included the Fab Four, so it seems natural explore what that might mean on a broad level. Instead, Curtis simply applies the loss as a gimmick for a musician who finds that the Beatles' absence allows him to present himself as a phenomenal genius.
This in turn forces him to deal with the story's main mystery — figuring out why he ignores true love when it stares him in the face. And that causes the hate side of my relationship with the movie, which involves sadness over missed opportunities. So much more than predictable romance and mild jokes seemed possible from the plot springboard and talent involved. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the laughs and music, so at least I can let it be and appreciate the film on a simplistic level.
This review was originally aired on 7/17/2019.
You can listen to it online at https://www.kunr.org/post/yesterday#stream/0