Friday, December 9, 2022

Finding Love (Actually) by Believing in “Yesterday”

‘Tis the season for Richard Curtis. A recent Los Angeles Times article singled out  2003’s Love Actually, written by Curtis and also his debut as a film director, for being essential December viewing. And so it is, if you enjoy British cinema stars (Hugh Grant! Emma Thompson! Bill Nighy! Mr. Bean!) searching for—and finding—love amid snow flurries, Christmas parties, and other holiday merriment. I first fell for Curtis in 1994, when he took the concept of a wedding movie and quadrupled it. Four Weddings and a Funeral had it all: lots of flowers, lots of bridesmaids in poufy dresses, lots of lovelorn singles looking for their special someone. And, of course, there was the funeral, reminding us that, amid all the saccharine happily-ever-after, love sometimes comes to a permanent end.

 Curtis is big on concepts. (Call them gimmicks if you must.) For instance, there’s 1999’s Notting Hill, which posits that a film star at the height of her international fame (Julia Roberts) makes a romantic connection with a shy, quirky London bookshop owner (High Grant).  Inevitably, the paparazzi descend, and  . . .  well, the course of true love never did run smooth. Less of a megahit but equally charming is 2013’s About Time, starring Dombnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, and the invaluable Bill Nighy, in a romantic film that also encompasses family relationships by adding a dash of time travel to the mix. 

 More recently, Curtis has branched into film and TV adaptations and sequels (see Doctor Who, War Horse, as well as several Bridget Jones and Mamma Mia films), without doing much in the way of originals. But he did try something rather new in 2019, although it too is an adapted version of someone else’s concept. Yesterday (2019) is based on a story by TV writer/producer Jack Barth, best known for his work on The Simpsons. (Barth who gets a story credit on Yesterday, apparently has griped that Curtis wrongly claims authorship of some of his own plot devices. But, at age 62, Barth became perhaps the oldest person in Hollywood to see his first screenplay produced, after 25 unsuccessful tries, so I’d say he’s doing all right.)

 So what’s Yesterday about? The title is an homage to the Paul McCartney song we all know and love. But in the world of the film, a young British singer-songwriter who’s recovering from a strange road accident suddenly discovers he’s alone in the universe in having any recollection of the Beatles. This makes it easy for him to claim that the entire Beatles canon is his own work, and fame and fortune soon follow. For a while he enjoys the ride, but he can’t help feeling guilty. And his growing celebrity within the music industry threatens his relationship with the nice young woman who’s loved him for years. You can probably guess the ending.

 Curtis left the directing of Yesterday to the talented Danny Boyle, an Oscar winner for Slumdog Millionaire. Perhaps it was Boyle’s experience in the Indian sub-continent that led him to cast a Brit of Indian descent, Himesh Patel, as his Yesterday leading man, in a film that was not at all about race and ethnicity. A nice bit of diversity, that. The cast also includes pop star Ed Sheeran, nicely playing a version of himself. But the real star is the Beatles’ greatest hits: the rumor is that some $10 million was paid for the right to use classic songs from their catalogue. The Fab Four and their survivors have signaled their love for the film, including a surprise cameo I will not divulge.





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