May 28, 2019
We’re continuing the Netflix Original reviews with the latest Spike Lee production, following up three spectacular 2018 films, including the Aretha Franklin documentary “Amazing Grace” (Episode forthcoming), the runaway Oscar hit “BlacKkKlansman” (Episode #225), and the sneak attack filmed stage show “Pass Over” (Episode #114). We’re always up for another Spike Lee production. Can’t wait to tell you my thoughts on today’s film in a bit. And for one more film in the same vein, check out “Sleight” (Episode #359).
Subscribe to stay current with the latest releases.
Connect with us over social media to continue the conversation.
Here we go!
Today’s movie is “See You Yesterday”, the Netflix Original Spike Lee production directed by Stefon Bristol and written for the screen in collaboration with Fredrica Bailey. The film follows child prodigy Claudette “CJ” Walker (Eden Duncan-Smith) and her best friend Sebastian J. Thomas (Dante Crichlow), in the wake of the tragic death of CJ’s older brother Calvin (Astro). Unable to accept his death, the two use a time machine to go back and prevent the death from happening, but things don’t always go as planned.
Time travel is always a fun concept for a story. It can be an uber-technical look at time travel, as in the case of indie favorite “Primer”, or it can be a simple plot device within a larger story, as in the “Back to the Future” trilogy for comedy, “The Time Traveler’s Wife” for romance, and any number of science-fiction thrillers and mysteries, beginning with H.G. Wells’ novel “The Time Machine” and continuing in the present era with today’s film. It can be as confusing as all hell, or as simplistic as necessary to serve a function. And I enjoy all of them on some level.
I love to contemplate the various paradoxes, impossibilities, and potentialities that come with time travel, especially on the big screen. But perhaps just as fascinating to me are the social implications of time travel, how it affects the larger community or world, and how it affects each individual character. That’s a huge role for science fiction, to consider the social implications of technologies and concepts outside our reach. I think it’s also infinitely more interesting than getting the science exactly right, although I’ve complained more than enough when the science has been excessively wrong. And today’s film brings a different kind of perspective to a common time travel plotline: saving someone from death.
“See You Yesterday” rides the line thematically between lighthearted discovery and grounded realism. On the one hand, we have CJ and Sebastian who could easily be classmates of Peter Parker in “Spider-Man: Homecoming”, operating well outside their expected capabilities, and not quite understanding the power in their experiments. On the other hand, we have the frank realism of black lives being gunned down by blue lives, which adds another layer to the story. Sure, it would be easy to dismiss this as a black version in a different setting of the same time travel story, but it would be even easier to identify that as a form of white privilege.
It would also miss the great interplay between the two themes. CJ and Sebastian make multiple attempts to prevent Calvin’s death, with disastrous results each time. The film gives a sense of the seeming inevitability of black folks losing either their own life or the life of someone they love, just as the space-time continuum seems unchangeable. It’s also important to note that, unlike Biff in “Back to the Future 2” who could only think of profiting himself with the power of time travel, CJ and Sebastian want to use the power to fight against the unjust deaths within the community, along with the occasional slushie shower for former lovers. It speaks volumes about what each demographic might do with the power in their hands.
Eden Duncan-Smith and Dante Crichlow are great and believable as male-female best friends, keeping their relationship strictly platonic and above board. I really appreciated not having one person secretly pining for the other, even if the adults around the pair often suggested such a relationship. Both actors are able to match the tone for each scene, easily moving from playful explorers to determined avengers to horrified citizens.
My major complaint for the film is that it doesn’t finish the story, leaving us wondering just how things might work out. It might work as a larger metaphor for continuing to fight against what might seem inevitable, and the seeming never-ending story of black lives being murdered by police and others. However, it also wreaks havoc on telling a complete story, and might leave viewers unfulfilled. For those worried about the TV-MA rating, it is entirely because of the language used in the film, which might be make white suburban ears burn, but is accurate for the inner city and never overdone.
“See You Yesterday” is a high school time travel thriller, which alternates between the joyous optimism of discovery and the overwhelming realism of social circumstances. The lead roles are played quite well by Eden Duncan-Smith and Dante Crichlow, but the film never finishes the story it starts, which may leave the viewer feeling adrift. Time travel fans, or fans of socially conscious thrillers should definitely check out this film, along with fans of high-school dramas.
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
One Movie Punch: 8.2/10
“See You Yesterday” (2019) is rated TV-MA and is currently playing on Netflix.