The big question for me in a film where the music takes centre stage is whether the star really sings and plays? Let me reassure you that 28 year-old EastEnders actor Himesh Patel did indeed. His audition was to play a Coldplay song, and he chose the lesser-known We Never Change– and bingo! Nevertheless he had to learn the guitar from scratch. The fact that he’s hardly an oil painting or superstar-material is oft reflected in the script – but that all adds to the charm of this Danny Boyle/Richard Curtis movie.
Curtis is reprising familiar themes from Four Weddings and Notting Hill, where hapless boy (in this case) is either the subject of or victim to unrequited love and a series of disasters before he/she makes good. Here we have Jack Malik, a former teacher who works by day in a retail park and gives dismal gigs to audiences mainly comprising his mates and his devoted manager Ellie (Lily James). Her unjustified faith in his dreadful songs is caused by her adoration to which he is immune. The big question is whether he will wake up before it’s too late.
In a quirk of fate and science there is a global power cut and energy surge at the very moment Jack is hit by a bus. This results in a world with no memory of the Beatles – and several other things like Harry Potter and coke – the losses are all bizarrely random and are opportunities for some good sly digs by the scriptwriter. Jack sees the chance to be a success at last on the back of his rather ragged memory – dammit if only he could remember the lyrics to Eleanor Rigby (this requires a visit to Liverpool for inspiration).
The fairy tale unfolds with Ed Sheeran – in a straight-up cameo role written for Chris Martin who was luckily otherwise engaged – arriving on his doorstep and soon he is banging out Back in the USSR to a Moscow audience (who don’t even know what the USSR was as that’s MIA too) and a star is born. As Sheeran quips he is the Salieri to his Mozart. It’s all rather believable as Sheeran’s acknowledged main influences are the Beatles and he is a great fan.
It really doesn’t matter to me that this is a silly stereotypical film with a daft plot. Danny Boyle directs enthusiastically, there is great chemistry between Patel and James, and a heap of wry comedy – not laugh-out-loud, but a good script and some fun caricatures, the best being Kate McKinnon’s money-grubbing yoga-queen LA Manager, with Meera Syal and Sanjeev Bhaskar as his nice-but-dim parents. Joel Fry as his useless mate and incompetent roadie Rocky provides some typical Curtis cringe moments – all grist to this mill.
Best of all – and what makes this a real feel-good movie – are the 17 Beatles’ songs that are at the centre of everything. The whole premise is so ludicrous – a world without the Beatles – that it is not a movie to be taken seriously, but one to sit back, relax and enjoy.