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In the last couple of years, we’ve witnessed a glut of film-makers and screenwriters responding to the increase in publicised, and often iPhone-recorded, incidents of unarmed black men being shot and killed by racist police officers. In Monsters and Men, Widows, Blindspotting and The Hate U Give, an ugly real-world epidemic provided dramatic impetus for creators and audiences have been left with a necessary and damning snapshot of the time we’re in.
There’s more on the way, including the horror movie Body Cam and Ava DuVernay-produced miniseries The Red Line, but it’s unlikely that we’ll see anything quite like See You Yesterday, a smart, often ingenious, new film that takes a depressingly familiar scenario and then adds some time travel to the mix.
In East Flatbush, Brooklyn, high schoolers CJ (Eden Duncan-Smith) and Sebastian (Danté Crichlow) spend their time attempting to do the impossible: turn back time. After the pair finally crack the code, transporting themselves back just one day for just 10 minutes, tragedy strikes. CJ’s 19-year-old brother Calvin (rapper-actor Astro) is mistaken for a robber on the run and after his phone is mistaken for a weapon, he’s shot and killed by an officer blinded by colour. The pair now have an added imperative for travelling back through time: saving Calvin.
Based on his short of the same name, writer-director Stefon Bristol’s feature-length debut is a curious, mostly compelling, gambit, weaving together disparate tones and genres, creating something that feels both fresh and familiar in the process. While Bristol is working with limited means, he’s crafted a film that’s clearly made with a wide, blockbuster-sized audience in mind, capturing a sun-drenched Brooklyn summer with slick vibrancy, the film positioned as a family-friendly afternoon watch during the warmer months.
But what’s most exceptional about the end result is just how deftly he weaves the enraging horror of a racially motivated police shooting into a zippy genre piece. By placing such a believably harrowing incident, played out with horrific efficiency, into a sturdy time travel narrative, Bristol has found a way to reach viewers who might otherwise bristle at a more dour and grounded drama. Even last year’s exceptional, wide-releasing adaptation of The Hate U Give struggled to attract a large audience who may have found the prospect of a straight-faced drama about a difficult topic just a bit too daunting for a multiplex viewing. See You Yesterday is launching on Netflix, a perfect launchpad for a film that deserves to be easily accessed by households globally, an easy decision to press play replacing a harder decision to buy tickets.
Bristol’s accomplished direction, which should act as a calling card for bigger-budgeted studio work, is clearly, lovingly influenced by so much that’s come before him, from the work of Spike Lee (who acts as a producer on the film) to numerous time travel classics (Michael J Fox makes a quick cameo as a science teacher). He’s also anchored the film with two effervescent young actors, reprising their roles from his original short, and they share a refreshing, warm friendship, untainted by any forced romance.
There’s a formula to time travel movies and anyone at least casually familiar with the basics will be able to predict many of the film’s narrative left turns. While the film’s science is obviously goofy, there’s an admirable pragmatism to the pair’s attempts to figure out a solution and an interesting reversal of gender stereotypes with CJ painted as a hothead and Sebastian left as the voice of reason. The score, while at times wonderfully ambitious, is often clumsy, especially in a major dramatic scene in the final act, and as with many films within the subgenre, the knottiness eventually unravels at the end. The final scene is staggeringly abrupt, frustratingly so, as if Bristol had run out of ideas, panicked and settled for something simple but evasive.
Luckily, the film before it is strong enough to leave one marvelling at what worked over what didn’t, looking to the future in anticipation of what else Bristol has in store.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: See You Yesterday review – poignant time travel caper is a Netflix win | Tribeca film festival