Yesterday once more (for sure)
Is Danny Boyle's latest film a smart way to replay The Beatles on big screen? Fans couldn't ask for more!
Okay, where/how does one really place Danny Boyle's latest film, Yesterday, releasing in theatres this Friday? That it's nothing like Boyle's previous works? But his films have hardly ever been like each other.
How else does one explain Boyle, following up on his phenomenal Oscar success with the sleeper blockbuster Slumdog Millionaire (2008)—expansively shot across Mumbai, with multiple timelines and characters—with a movie like 127 Hours (2010), centered on one man, trapped by a boulder in an isolated slot canyon, all through the film's running time!
In the incredibly incisive interviews' book with Amy Raphael, Boyle foretells that a filmmaker, at the peak of his career-defining output, usually lasts at best a decade. Boyle has himself been around for 25 years (Shallow Grave; 1994).
Trainspotting (1996) brought him instant, global-cult fame. What did we learn about Boyle through that film, besides his deeply visual, visceral understanding of Birmingham's underground drug-scene, and a penchant to encapsulate local patois?
That he had an ear for music. The Trainspotting soundtrack—with its neatly-demarcated mix of classic 1970s pop (Lou Reed, Iggy Pop), 1990s Brit-pop (Blur, Pulp), and techno-dance, perhaps precursor to EDM (Bedrock, Ice MC)—remains still one of the greatest movie albums ever!
With Yesterday, Boyle collaborates with screenwriter Richard Curtis. How does one describe Kiwi-born Curtis in a sentence? As the patron saint of modern romantic comedy. Which is a fast-dying genre. Maybe, because Curtis has exhausted his resources. Or, romance-wise, audiences have just become too cynical to be as welcoming of updated versions of Curtis's classics, from the 1990s to the early 2000s—right from Four Weddings And A Funeral (1994), Notting Hill (1999), to Bridget Jones's Diary (2001), and Love Actually (2003).
Happy to take reccos, but the last great Hollywood/English rom-coms I can recall, and for some reason, both rather underrated, would be Nancy Meyers's The Holiday (2006), and Marc Lawrence's Music And Lyrics (2007), from over a decade ago.
That said, if we applied Artificial Intelligence to feed Boyle and Curtis into a system to generate a film, what's it likely to look like? Quite possibly, Yesterday. It is pretty much a rom-com, playing off a struggling singer, hard on luck, and his rookie manager, who refuses to give up on him.
Beyond any of that though, the film is essentially an excellent excuse to bring back The Beatles' tracks, and that you would immediately love if you were a fan. And who's not a Beatles' fan? One could argue this is a lot like the recent Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) that, more than a Freddy Mercury biopic, basically brought together the Queen's best tracks on the big screen. But, no.
Yesterday is set in Suffolk in East England, travelling through Liverpool, and making it to Los Angeles. This is quite in line with Boyle's filmography that has never stationed itself in any part of the world for too long. And yet his films manage to so brilliantly capture the vistas of far-off lands, whether that be the Thai Koh Phi Phi island for the stunning thriller The Beach (2000), or the calmness of California in the dramatic Steve Jobs (2015).
Besides the obvious geography, I suspect that as a filmmaker, he also makes the effort to develop a greater understanding of the world he attempts to portray through his movies. One of the remarks that surprised me, coming from Boyle in Raphael's book, was on the question of red-tapism in India, during their conversation on Slumdog Millionaire.
The progressive interference of politics/government/bureaucracy, Boyle said, was more a remnant of Soviet statism, which India readily adopted going forward, rather than simply the structures of British colonialism that it inherited after Independence. Whether you agree or not, this is astute observation for a Lancashire-born, who had hardly if ever been to India, before filming Slumdog in Mumbai.
It's probably the fact that he is simultaneously comfortable with multiple cultures that the hero of Yesterday is a brown/desi dude (debutant Himesh Patel, who starred in the BBC soap opera East Enders), with Indian parentage, starring Sanjeev Bhaskar (of The Kumars At No 42 fame), and Meera Syal (Sanjeev's grandmom, on that same show).
Forget that. How do you place this film in the real world is what I'm interested in. For, it's a world of 2000 (post Y2K midnight), with people holding smartphones, and posting pictures on Instagram, where everything is as normal as it seems/sounds. Except The Beatles as a group has oddly disappeared from global public memory. As has Coke (the drink), and Harry Potter, and sundry else. Eh?
As a fellow viewer told me at the film's screening: Imagine you wake up one morning and realise that ideas of liberalism, equality, empathy, respect for multiple faiths, etc, just disappeared from the planet. Okay, that seems to be happening already! Similar, no? But human history without The Beatles? Man, that sounds just as terrible!
Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14
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