Film Review – See You Yesterday

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Produced by 40 Acres and a Mule Film Works (Spike Lee)
Directed by Stefon Bristol
Written by Frederica Bailey and Stefon Bristol
Starring Eden Duncan-Smith, Dante Crichlow; Michael J. Fox makes an appearance
Netflix

See You Yesterday is a pretty straight-forward time-paradox story featuring two high schoolers who crack the time travel code and then – despite being well-versed in the many pitfalls of time travel, one of them decides to try and change the past anyway.

Centered on two near-high school graduates, the film would seem to be geared towards a crowd younger than myself, but I found myself drawn in anyway, but not for the time travel story.  Which itself was handled pretty well.  Audiences have been getting familiar with time travel, alternate time lines, time loops, the butterfly effect and the mental gymnastics that must be performed into order to understand not just the possibilities, but the plot as well, ever since Back to the Future – which receives several nods throughout – Michael J Fox portrays a sympathetic science teacher, a drawing of a flux capacitor appears as background – it’s not enough to simply say “time travel” anymore, and without having re-watched to double check, I’d have to say that See You Yesterday introduces a somewhat new concept to the ouvre.

No, not the time travel story, but the other story, the “political messaging” that will no doubt draw the ire of some.  See You Yesterday uses time travel as a vehicle to explore Black Lives Matter, police shootings and the communities that these affect, and the call-outs to Back to the Future are telling by way of contrast.  No one dies in BttF.  Marty McFly’s quest is to insure that his parents meet and, in a bit of time-line editing, insure that his father’s writing career is a huge success.  Once the time loops are closed, Marty’s world goes back to normal.

SYY takes place in the inner city, not the suburbs.  CJ and Sebastian, the students, are looking to their research and discovery as a way into college.  A handful of incidents in and around their neighborhood illustrate why getting out and moving on are desirable goals.  But this story does not take place in Beaver Cleaver’s neighborhood and things are most certainly not whitebread.  Tragedy strikes in the form of police shootings of young black men, one very close to CJ, and, despite entreaties from her best friend Sebastian, CJ is determined to use her new technology to put things right.  Unlike BttF though, closing the time loops doesn’t resolve anything.

One of the central messages here is that the POC community is trapped in its own time loop of never-ending tragedy;  that no matter what politicians, civic organizers, religious leaders or protestors do, the end result is always the same – nothing changes.  We are doomed to seeing young people unjustly killed by police, just as are doomed to seeing schools attacked by armed assailants.  Hopes and prayers are just as ineffective as make-believe time machines.

There are minor themes here as well – the importance of education for a disenfranchised community, how far removed much of the black community remains in today’s society, the on-going effects of discrimination on the black community, why the empowerment of women is so important.

But these are not heavy-handed “lessons”; they’re the window-dressing and background against which the story plays and are only as noticiable to me as they are because that reality is not my own.  My societal experience is near-adjacent Beaver Cleaver and I think one of the things that SYY manages to impart, at least to a white audience, is some appreciation for what POCs experience when watching a white-centered film.  “This is not my personal experience of life.”  Cudos to the film for presenting this lesson in an understated and digestable manner, whether that was its intention or not.

I also want to draw attention to the way the film handled tragedy.  There’s more than one funeral here.  These scenes could have done the film in, but they were handled deftly and used as a tool to demonstrate the resiliency of the community and illustrate the enduring importance of family, both natural and found.

There were a few moments here and there where I felt the writing or the acting was a tad off, but not so much that I was thrown out of the experience.  All in all, See You Yesterday is a fine entry in the time travel story category, will appeal to a youthful audience and imparts some visceral lessons on one of today’s more tragic issues.

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