ONE OF MY FAVORITE movies last year was the Richard Curtisscripted "Yesterday" (2019, directed by Danny Boyle). Himesh Patel plays a struggling contemporary musician, Jack Malik, involved in a biking accident. After a brief hospital stay, he slowly realizes no one in the world seems to have heard of the Beatles. So, of course, the use of their material jump-starts his career.
Before long, he is the opening act for the ever-so-thoughtful contemporary British musical star Ed Sheeran (as himself), and Malik is off to world fame and growing guilt over being credited for his songwriting magic. Plus, he ever so much misses his childhood friend and former manager Ellie (Lily James), who graciously steps aside as fame drags him off to Hollywood. Only then does it come out that she always has loved him, and he finally realizes that he feels the same way about her. (Kudos here to the clever use of the Beatles love song "Yesterday," which obviously doubles as the film's title.)
Indeed, what would a Curtis script be without love? This is the writer who brought us such films as "Four Weddings and a Funeral" (1994, the top grossing picture in British history up until that time), "Notting Hill" (1999, in which Curtis uses his personal London locale to out-gross "Four Weddings"), and a Christmas staple in my home, "Love Actually" (2003, also his directing debut).
Besides love, and the ever present at-least-once-a-film Beatles reference, there is a very high degree of civility in these works. A 2003 New York Times article described the writer's world as a "rosy-eyed version of a loved up England." These components drive this normally cynical critic to Curtis' films. Of course, truth be told, we are both aging baby boomers, and I must confess the Beatles and all things British once drew me to a college backpacking trip around England.
Yes, all this sounds rather corny, which brings us to this essay's Frank "Capra-corn" connection with Curtis. The tie-in for me is a personal extrapolation of a comment made by the "Father" of American independent filmmaking, John Cassavetes: "Maybe there really wasn't an America. Maybe it was only Frank Capra." If a viewer only superficially knows Cassavetes' work, such as "Faces" (1968), about a marriage coming apart, or "A Woman Under the Influence" (1974), in which Gena Rowland's good mother and wife is gradually cracking up, one might think this iconic filmmaker was being sarcastic about Capra. However, he really identified with Capra's idealistic cinema of hope, and felt he was the greatest director ever.
In the 1930s, the Motion Picture Academy of Arts of Sciences would seem to have also bought into Cassavetes' view of Capra films like "It Happened One Night" (1934), "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" (1936), "You Can't Take It With You" (1938), and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1939), which all were huge critical and...