The texture of “Yesterday” is predicated on a simple idea if one can suspend disbelief in what is actually transpiring. In embracing a diversity structure, the ideal of Hamish Patel as Jack who becomes a leading songwriter after the blinking out of power and earth and him being subsequently hit by a bus sets an alternative history in motion. Films in the 80s did this kind of switch many times without blinking. If one can get past the story of that (there are many other things that change besides the absence of The Beatles but those are on the periphery), then it becomes a fairly cohesive romantic comedy in a way. Balanced between the idea of creative fulfillment and the notion of happiness strikes very real as the film goes on. An undeniable meeting later in the film that acts as a spark point of revelation heightens the heart of the film in an undeniable way but almost seems like a different plane from the rest of the film.
Danny Boyle as a director here does understand the material but interestingly enough Richard Curtis, the writer, who is known for “Love Actually” provides a different access point in terms of the story. Curtis’ strengths blend between relationships with levity and a touch of drama and Boyle sometimes strays towards the darker edges of life. The aspect of his stylistic touches inhabit the beginning of the movie but seem to disappear into the background as the film progresses. The resolution is a foregone conclusion. The different supporting parts listed do well though are sometimes off tone. Ed Sheeran plays himself but comes off simply as a plot ploy more than anything else. Kate McKinnon as his manager via Ed simply mods for the camera while being both chideful and manic in a off-center sort of way. No film yet (save for a bit in “Ghostbusters”) has found a way to channel her correctly. Joel Fry as Jack’s would-be roadie Rocky makes for some funny off-thoughts and character moments like Ewan Bremner as Spud in Boyle’s “Trainspotting”.
The heart of the film is Lily James who works well her but only serves a catalyst for the plot. Her specificity on what she want is very endearing but, there is so much more that lurks below the surface that isn’t truly allowed to brim. However it is Hamish Patel’s Jack who is the focus of the journey and while engaging, his character is more just along for the ride. He may figure it out but the choice elements regarding his path make it almost inevitable. But if you like The Beatles and their music, one can overlook many of the films failings but also enjoy its strengths.
The balance of a buddy movie and a spy thriller can work in tandem if the tone and the script are right on point. The pitch of “The Spy Who Dumped Me” has potential and the pairing of Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon definitely has resonance depending on the improvisational nature given but also the reigning in of specific gags depending on the possibilities. That is where unfortunately this would-be romp falters. Despite some good set ups and action pieces, the delivery falters in much the same way but, distinctly, in more ways, than the similarly affected “Spy” movie did starring Melissa McCarthy. This interrelates to the tone. It is both dark and light at the same time. McKinnon seems to be having fun but her improvs seem not directed at all. An entire sequence near the end of the film featuring her solo seems completely unscripted but not reigned in or directed, and thereby off rails. Kunis seems to be in one movie and McKinnon in another. The film distinctly was made for a price which is understandable but the pace and structure for the most part doesn’t gel. It is only in the final moments when it truly pays tribute to some of the spy structure in almost tongue-in-cheek form does it start to have potential and move. Alas it is the last 3 minutes.
“Lethal Weapon” worked, as a comparison, because you understood how dangerous Martin Riggs (as played by Mel Gibson) was so his humor worked and thereby the tone when his character did more unhinged and unsavory things.. McKinnon’s character needed that edge instead of trying to mug for the camera as much. Her performance in “Ghostbusters” was great simply because it was wild, but honed in its improv. Kunis can play bad ass but the little balances in between are a little more difficult it seems for her. Film acting requires a different kind of structure than television (ditto for McKinnon) but it is scaling up or back. In all specificity, it has to do with direction and tight script. Adding to this point is the almost nihilistic vicious violence which if done right is thrilling but in many ways comes off as brutal.
The movie, as a result, seems stuck in a netherworld where it is neither funny nor inventive, action packed or droll. As far as other characters, the two male co-stars (Sam Hueghan & Justin Theroux) are simply plot devices, which is fine but their inclusion (because neither of them are comedians) makes them invisible at best, grating at worst. Gillian Anderson (again wasted in many considerations within the film) has so much possibility as well. “The Spy Who Dumped Me” is the movie that could have been and, in the final moments, realizes what it needed to be. Too late unfortunately.