Danny Boyle and Richard Curtis‘ musical comedy project Yesterday is shaping up incredibly. When news first broke about the duo’s then-untitled jukebox musical project inspired by The Beatles, the Boyle-Curtis team-up was utterly intriguing simply because of how different their respective filmographies appear to be.
The burgeoning cast list only continued to fuel intriguing possibilities. It wasn’t always clear how everyone would mesh together. The one unequivocal fact is that fresh-faced Himesh Patel of EastEnders fame is about to get a huge break with this movie. He is then joined by the likes of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again star Lily James, Ghostbusters‘ Kate McKinnon, and even Ed Sheeran, who will play himself. That’s certainly an eclectic mix of names for an ensemble.
Thankfully, as evidenced by the new Yesterday trailer, everyone easily holds their own. Watch the spot below.
In just over three minutes, Boyle and Curtis’ borderline-fantastical take on this unconventional resurgence of Beatlemania is delightful, if also frenetic. The trailer is infused with the cheeky spirited nature that’s easily recognizable in Curtis classics like Bridget Jones’ Diary, About Time, and Love Actually. Meanwhile, Boyle’s signature visual cues can’t be missed as they elevate the hectic drama and create a montage of inventive and dynamic images.
Basically, Yesterday comprises the best of both filmmakers’ worlds. So let’s break down the trailer together.
The opener of the trailer immediately inspires a conflicting reaction of laughter and empathy for its talented but struggling protagonist. Jack Malik (Patel) has played his last show at a festival to the tiniest, least-engaging audience. He’s down on his luck. But of course, there’s a potential comedic throughline that juxtaposes the character’s passion for music with the uninterested children he performs for.
Despite this, a very bubbly and charismatic Lily James arrives. She portrays Ellie, who seems to be the part best friend and part cheerleader who counteracts Jack’s professional and personal woes. She is a proponent of miracles…
…which actually come true in a rather unfortunate way. Jack has no time to fret over his ailing career because when all electricity across the world flickers out, he gets caught up in a traffic accident. After being thrown from his bicycle and flying through the air in gorgeous slow-motion, he ends up in the hospital missing some teeth.
Before the chaos of fame and fortune, we’re given some semblance of Jack’s personal life through a number of quirky characters. Here, it’s Jack’s goofy, supportive friends who crack the odd joke or two.
Still, only one woman cheers Jack on the most, and that’s Ellie. Honestly, while Patel deservedly takes center stage in Yesterday, I’m also hoping that James’ character actually ends up with more to do than this trailer supposes. Still, the chemistry between both actors is absolutely lovely, with James effortlessly exuding warmth with wordless glances.
But we’ve waited long enough to really hear Patel sing. This scene is just a lilting teaser to a multitude of stage performances to come. As Jack’s friends sit awestruck by the beauty of his version of “Yesterday,” which they’ve never heard in any other form before, it’s easy for us to get sucked into his personable presence, too.
Trouble comes when even the all-knowing Google seems a tad confused as to who actually wrote “Yesterday.” Patel lets his comedic chops speak for themselves with some prime line delivery and facial expressions as Jack tries to figure out what the hell happened in the span of a day.
Is it really a Curtis film without some important conversations in or around doorways? In the vein of “To me, you are perfect” in Love Actually and the break-up scene in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, Jack and Ellie get their own unforgettable visual cue.
Past the more rom-com adjacent scenes, some Boyle-esque storytelling quirks begin to come into play. As Jack rips off The Beatles and gets recognition for it, he oscillates between expressions of bewilderment and excitement. That doesn’t stop him from carrying on with the charade, but there’s a darker moral conundrum that Boyle’s directing is bound to tease out.
The fact that Jack just has such a great time performing…
…doesn’t mean he won’t be seduced by the affluence, access, and adoration that comes with being a successful musician. The introduction of Mandi, a talent agent played by McKinnon, makes this point crystal clear.
From such a brief trailer appearance, I don’t have much faith that McKinnon’s character will go beyond delivering key laughs in the film. However, if Boyle taps into the real manipulative potential of this story and utilizes McKinnon’s uncannily weird acting abilities to the fullest, there could be something special in her part.
From performing onstage in front of legions of fans to making appearances on late-night talk shows, Jack’s fame skyrockets. He may be overwhelmed before cameras roll, but he slips into a performer persona well enough under pressure.
When Jack sings, he touches hearts. If only it didn’t seem to lead to one of my least favorite romance tropes ever: love triangles.
I reiterate that I hope Ellie ends up being a fully fleshed-out character in her own right. The exhaustion and inferiority she upsettingly expresses in the trailer could lead to ample character growth as long as it isn’t relegated to a mere plot device. After all, her schoolteacher role should also be celebrated.
It’s a good thing that, to the trailer’s credit and Patel’s captivating screen presence, we’re not given any impression that Jack’s journey to stardom is smooth in the slightest. He may have journalists clinging to his every word during press conferences…
…and have his face plastered on all screens. Yet, Jack is clearly troubled by the fact that people consider him “the greatest singer-songwriter,” as Ellie puts it when she declares her apparently unrequited affections for him.
These shots of an alienated Jack feel quintessentially Boyle, particularly the close-up of the character suddenly waking up in a hotel room. Is this a moment of sober realization or fear for the character?
The scene is sneakily cut with another one of Jack running away from a mob of screaming fans at the airport, A Hard Day’s Night style, so we won’t know the context for a while. The next few clips speed by and ensure that the terror of Jack’s farce keeps creeping up on him.
McKinnon’s off-kilter talent agent affirms that Jack is about to make “the greatest album of all time,” all the while eerily doused in orange light as she looms over what could presumably be a recording studio.
The executives in charge of Jack’s music career give him a standing ovation as he sits uncomfortably beneath ridiculously pretentious-looking self-portraits.
And finally, some consequences arise. Yesterday totally gets away with a foot cameo here. Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr are in the house the next time Jack is a guest on James Corden’s show. Needless to say, things probably get dicey.
The rest of the trailer proceeds in a quickfire fashion, highlighting key disjointed moments of celebration and self-discovery that Jack experiences. Of all these scenes, I’m mostly struck by Patel’s command of the stage. In spite of all the anxiety he radiates behind-the-scenes, Jack knows how to put on a good show.
Ending it all on an Ed Sheeran gag is a pretty safe bet. The humor is a little dorky, but it’s a pleasant way to tie up the jam-packed trailer before it.
That was a lot to take in. Frankly, part of me wonders just how much of the movie we’ve already seen in the trailer, given the number of plot points the footage hits. Is the film likely to stick with a feel-good tone or sober up even once each manipulative machination behind Jack’s newfound career is eventually unearthed? The Jack/Ellie relationship is a huge emotional anchor for the trailer alone, but would it be too much to ask for a less predictable conclusion to their lovelorn plot?
Truthfully, Yesterday still seems like a fun ride regardless of such queries. It is primed to capitalize on the current musical boom in an engaging and fresh way. I’ve written about the promise of jukebox musicals in the past, mainly because the subgenre could very well apply timeless music to modern and diverse stories. Yesterday, which is inclined to deliver a classic Curtis story through Boyle’s kinetic filmmaking lens, easily exemplifies that possibility all the more. The film arrives in cinemas on June 28th.