There’s a brilliant bit of ‘What if?’ storytelling early on in Trainspotting director Danny Boyle’s The Beatles jukebox-brought-to-life movie Yesterday.
It posits a world where the music of Liverpool’s most famous sons has been wiped from existence. Only three folks worldwide remember.
In his first big screen outing, EastEnders alumnus Himesh Patel plays Jack, a talented but going-nowhere pub singer.
Depressed by an empty tent showing at his first big festival booking, he’s hit by a bus and wakes up in hospital in an alternate timeline where The Beatles never happened.
But they live on in Jack’s head. And soon he cheekily takes full advantage of his odd situation and The Beatles’ back catalogue, passing it off as his own.
Googling the ramifications of their never-happened status, he discovers the Rolling Stones are safe but Oasis isn’t a thing either.
“Obviously,” he says, smirking.
A sassy aside that takes direct aim at the Gallagher brothers’ derivative Beatles sound, it makes full mischievous use of the Twilight Zone set-up, tantalisingly hinting at a movie willing to have a bit of fun with this alternate reality.
The sort of movie that Boyle, who re-animated the zombie genre exhilaratingly with 2002’s 28 Days Later, should make.
But because Yesterday is written by the unimaginative cheese factory that is Love Actually scribe Richard Curtis, long past his glory days of Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill, there’s next to none of that.
Instead what we get is an amiable enough and thoroughly formulaic will-they-won’t-they romance between Jack and his bestie/manager/maths teacher Ellie (Cinderella’s Lily James).
Thanks to an overstretched two-hour run time, the answer to the ‘What if’ question is ‘Who cares?’
It probably doesn’t matter.
Packed full of The Beatles’ barnstorming pop, the reality is this movie’s engineered to be a huge crowd pleaser, all but guaranteed to go gangbusters a la the similarly spirited Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody.
But, like them, Yesterday lacks ambition.
Sure, Patel and James are adorably cute.
Saturday Night Live breakout Kate McKinnon has heaps of fun as a dead-hearted music rep who takes over Ellie’s managerial duties once Jack begins to blow up, and cameo king Ed Sheeran is also game for a laugh, playing a piss-take of himself.
There’s even some spot-on hilarity in a heinous marketing meeting that workshops The Beatles’ spark of kaleidoscopic creativity, but I can’t help feeling Yesterday could have been so much more.
What would a world without the original boy band look like?
How much deeper would the knock-on effects of their erasure run?
How would those that remember cope with the weird amnesiac world they inherited, and what would they think of Jack’s appropriation?
For the most part, Yesterday isn’t interested in asking these questions, and what little we see of what has changed works an oddly puritan streak.
Jack doesn’t drink, mainly so the film can work a running joke that Coca-Cola doesn’t exist in the world’s weirdest product placement for Pepsi.
Cigarettes have also been wiped from the timeline, but as for how these deletions connect to The Beatles, we’ll never know.
And to be honest, when this mild amusement was said and done, I was happy to let it be.