No movie is perfect but, for my taste, Yesterday comes very, very close. It is the most fun, most feel good, most fulfilled time I have had at the movies this summer. Without question.
Hamish Patel, delightful and charming, plays frustrated singer/guitarist Jack Malik. After a decade of playing D-List gigs at dumps and to empty rooms, he has all but given up his hope of becoming a professional singer when something strange happens. Hit by a bus during a strange, world-wide event, Jack awakens to discover that he is the only person on Earth who remembers the Beatles and their music. He begins to share their songs as if they were his own and rockets to stardom as a result.
In the process, he leaves behind his old friend and manager Ellie Appleton, played by the ubiquitous and delightful Lily James. Jack and Ellie have been working on his career ever since they were kids and knew each other in school and, as things finally take off for Jack, Ellie – a school teacher – has no choice but to stay behind and watch him from afar. The movie manages, however, to keep them onscreen together quite a lot, and this is a good thing. The two have great chemistry.
One cannot discuss the movie without a brief mention of the scenery chewing turn by Kate McKinnon. She is wonderfully terrible as Jack’s new manager and injects friendly venom in every line reading. And Ed Sheeran should be saluted, too, for his persona mocking work as himself.
Yesterday is a movie that is pure fantasy and knows it. It does not try to explain why people have forgotten the Fab Four (and forgotten other, amusing things, too) or what the global event was. It does not need to do so. It asks the audience to go along for the ride and quite a pleasant ride it is.
Richard Curtis, the writer of Love Actually is behind this movie and there are more than a few pleasant resonances from that film in this one. He has a knack for romantic comedy and a love of high concepts (as evidenced by his criminally underrated About Time). He imbues his characters with a sweetness that never crosses into cloying. He also is a lover of coincidence and that plot element is on display in Yesterday.
Directed with much style and a sure hand by Danny Boyle, the movie is a rollicking romp. It only asks for a suspension of disbelief and a desire to get caught up in a little magic. If you cannot do that, Yesterday is not the film for you. But, if you want some joy, want some romance and want some great music, this is the film for you. Yesterday knows exactly what it is. It also knows exactly what it wants to do: it wants to take its audience down to Strawberry Fields, where nothing is real, but everything is wonderful.
YESTERDAY receives FOUR AND A HALF YELLOW SUBMARINES out of a possible FIVE
Once the full trailer for Spider-Man Far From Home was released and it became clear that the post-Avengers | Endgame setting was critical to the story, my expectations were altered. I went in to Far From Home feeling I was about to see an extension of Endgame that would clear up some ambiguities (like Spider-Man’s entire class was snapped out of existence?) and answer some questions (like how is the world coping with all the returning people?). The movie supplies some of those answers but flips the script and the tone from the Wagnerian epic that was Infinity War and Endgame so readily that I was caught off guard.
I shouldn’t have been. It is clear that these Spider-Man movies are meant to be, first-and-foremost, high school comedies. That the main character has super powers and is involved in a wider narrative is secondary to the story. Settling in to that perspective and watching Far From Home in that mindset changes my reactions to the movie.
In a bit of meta-casting, Jake Gyllenhaal, who was once rumored as the replacement for Tobey Maguire for Spider-Man 2, plays Mysterio, a superhero from a newly discovered alternate dimension. He has come to Spider-Man’s earth to warn of a new cosmic threat and to pitch in in defeating it. Gyllenhaal is game for the role and somehow seem at home in what is – without a doubt – the most silly Marvel costume yet. Dude is wearing a fishbowl on his head and he makes it work. He also shares a very nice chemistry with Tom Holland, who remains absolutely spot-on as Peter Parker/Spider-Man.
In this film, Peter is dealing with the events and the deaths of Avengers | Endgame and not even the quirky and engaging Aunt May (Marisa Tomei is ideal and having a great time in the part) and the suddenly gruffly lovable father figure Happy Hogan (played by Jon Favreau in increasingly and amusingly “I’m too old for this S%^& manner) can help. Peter is questioning his place in the superheroing world, the demands of an oddly out-of-character Nick Fury (always perfectly embodied by Samuel L. Jackson) and Maria Hill (once again realized by Cobie Smulders) notwithstanding. Rather than join Fury for superheroics, Peter dedicates himself to his fun group of classmates (Zendaya as MJ and Jacob Batalon as Ned are standouts) and to their summer trip to Europe. Friendly neighborhood Spider-Man no more!
It’s in Europe that things get complicated – really, really complicated – and Peter realizes, as any audience buying a ticket for a Spider-Man movie knew he must – that with great power comes…
The movie is breezily directed by Jon Watts and he clearly loves the material. Packed full of Easter eggs, Marvel comics references and clever dialogue, this is the most family friendly of the Marvel movies and the most action figure friendly, too. Spider-Man wears no fewer than four different costumes and faces more than a handful of adversaries in the course of the movie. Let’s mold plastic!
The drawback of the film might be a problem that challenges all Marvel movies going forward. Spider-Man Far From Home is the mind-boggling twenty-third film in the series and the baggage it carries is significant. With each passing installment, the pressure to amaze and thrill the audience while staying true to a broader tapestry is building and it makes this movie too clever by half. Many of the things that seem odd or out of place or shoehorned into the narrative only make any kind of sense when the after the credits sequences rolls (and I do mean AFTER the credits – stick around!). Don’t get me wrong. I love these movies and I love the interlocked nature of them. I am so impressed by the scope. It is simply that, for the first time in a long time, I felt the overall story of the main character was compromised by the needs of the franchise.
That does not mean I won’t be seeing Spider-Man Far From Home again, however!
SPIDER-MAN FAR FROM HOME receives THREE AND A HALF TINGLES out of a possible FIVE