Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

dir Danny Boyle
scr Richard Curtis
prd Eric Fellner, Tim Bevan, Danny Boyle, Richard Curtis, Bernard Bellew, Matthew James Wilkinson
with Himesh Patel, Lily James, Kate McKinnon, Joel Fry, Ed Sheeran, Meera Syal, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Alexander Arnold, Sophia Di Martino, Harry Michell, Ellise Chappell, Sarah Lancashire
release UK/US 28.Jun.19
19/UK 1h56

james mckinnon fry

The offbeat premise for this film may seem somewhat worrying, but it's essentially just a ruse to allow Danny Boyle and Richard Curtis to make a romantic comedy that celebrates the music of the Beatles. Indeed, the classic songs are the main thing here, and they're surrounded by a smart, funny script that features likeable performances. So even if it all feels vaguely corny, it's thoroughly engaging.
In Sussex, singer-songwriter Jack (Patel) is struggling with anonymity despite the efforts of his best friend and manager Ellie (James). Then one night he's hit by a bus just as a blackout sweeps around the globe. When he wakes up, he's the only person who has any memory that the Beatles (among other things) existed, so when he absent-mindedly sings Yesterday to his friends (Fry, Di Martino and Michell), they're stunned that he's written something so beautiful. An online clip then catches the eye of Ed Sheeran (as himself) and hotshot manager Debra (McKinnon).
The surreal story lends itself to witty explorations of the struggle for fame, the nature of creativity and raw power of music. By contrast, the rom-com plot feels simplistic, but it is glued together with the sheer genius of those classic Lennon-McCartney tracks. The filmmakers don't have to work too hard to show why these songs are so timeless, and they're beautifully performed by Patel, as Jack struggles to remember these "lost" masterpieces.

Patel is a terrific everyman, mixing his general confusion with relief that, after years of struggling, people are finally noticing him. He also nicely layers in Jack's guilt over the origins of the songs. Patel and James develop chemistry that's both close and awkward, a couple who perhaps has let their moment pass. Fry is enjoyable as the chucklehead pal, while Syal and Bhaskar add goofy charm as Jack's clueless parents. And of course McKinnon steals her scenes with edgy, madcap hilarity.

The most intriguing character is Sheeran, playing himself in a story that loosely parallels his own journey to worldwide success. He adds an off-handed authenticity to what could have been a much sillier movie. And Boyle's direction further grounds things with a hint of grittiness that nicely contrasts with some vaguely cartoonish characters and situations. That the film never grapples with the implications of fame is a bit odd. But then, this is really about the Beatles, and how the world simply wouldn't be the same without their influence.

cert 12 themes, language 10.Jun.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall