Danny Boyles fantasy about a world without the Beatles turns into a Richard Curtis greatest hits show
This high-concept romantic comedy is billed as a collaboration between two of the most distinctive voices in British cinema. But, in fact, it is Richard Curtis who hogs the mic here, with director Danny Boyle rather drowned out by Curtiss instantly recognisable writing style. In fairness, its a style that has proven highly successful over the years: the joshing, bantering dialogue; the mannered inarticulacy with members of the opposite sex; the mortifying public declaration at the crest of the third act. But it feels a bit like an overfamiliar playlist of greatest hits. Theres a heart-sinking moment when you realise that you know exactly where the story is going. And you wish that Curtis could be prised away from the karaoke machine and let someone else pick a tune.
Yesterday envisages a world in which aspiring singer-songwriter Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is hit by a bus at the same time as a freak cosmic glitch plunges the world into darkness. He wakes in a parallel dimension in which the Beatles never existed and he alone remembers their music. Painstakingly recreating the songs from memory, he passes them off as his own. Success is almost instantaneous, thanks to a cameo performance from Ed Sheeran (who has the screen presence of a turnip but is gamely good-natured). But Jack finds himself cynically packaged as a product by his slick new manager (Kate McKinnon, doing her best with a pantomime witch of a role). And he realises, belatedly, that all he really wants is artistic credibility and the love of Ellie (Lily James), the girl who believed in him back when he was average.
Theres a zesty spark between Patel and James, and for a while the film chugs along happily on the goodwill bought by the soundtrack. Then one honkingly misjudged scene knocks the whole movie off key, heralding a toe-curling, tone-deaf terrace chant of an ending.