This year marks the 25th anniversary of Richard Curtis’ lone Oscar nomination. The recipient was his original screenplay for 1994’s “Four Weddings and a Funeral, ” which also was a Best Picture candidate. Could it be time for him to get another chance with his latest opus, “Yesterday”?
The script for the film directed by Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire, “Trainspotting”) that opens nationwide on June 28 imagines a world where the Beatles never existed , a phenomenon caused by a worldwide blackout. The only person who seems to remember them is a struggling musician named Jack (Himesh Patel), who was knocked unconscious after being hit by a bus while riding his bike. When he launches into “Yesterday” to try out a new guitar, he realizes his friends think he wrote the tune. Soon fame, fortune and celebs come calling, including Ed Sheeran and James Corden.
It is a clever enough premise and there are a slew of spot-on jokes, not to mention a music executive insisting that Jack renames “Hey, Jude” to “Hey, Dude.” Of course, there is a love story with the ubiquitous Lily James and Kate McKinnon as Jack’s viper-like manager whose eyes practically flash dollar signs every time she hears one of “his” songs. Plus, there are 17 of the mop-topped band’s greatest hits on the soundtrack.
It sounds fun and it is, although some killjoy critics who caught the film’s premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival found the musical fantasy comedy a bit trite and underwhelming. But at my recent early screening, the clapping heard from the crowd during the end credits sounded a lot like “yeah, yeah, yeah” to me. And, as Jack, Patel — who is best known for his work on the long-running British soap opera “EastEnders” — has true hang-dog charisma, relatable Every-guy charm and a voice not unlike Paul McCartney’s.
If there is a hitch to Curtis getting a second try at an Oscar, it could be due to the fact that the story conjured by Jack Barth, who has written for “The Simpsons,” has sort of been told before. A BBC ‘90s sitcom known as “Goodnight Sweetheart” that ran for six seasons had a similar premise in which the show’s hero could time-travel to wartime London and pass off the Beatles’ music as his own. The series has spawned a stage musical that will open next year. A few British media outlets have already noted the similarities.
However, few moviegoers in the States probably have ever heard of the show. It might all come down to box office as the deciding factor for “Yesterday’s” award season hopes.