See You Yesterday is a fascinating and creative genre mashup that demonstrates Bristol's blossoming talent as an inventive filmmaker.
The feature length debut of Spike Lee protege Stefon Bristol, See You Yesterday is based on the director's 2017 short of the same name. Originally premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this month, the film drew much attention for its interesting blend of genres. Tapping into relevant social and racial issues, the film puts a time travel spin on the subjects of police brutality and Black Lives Matter, telling a story where two best friends use their newfound power to undo a horrific tragedy. See You Yesterday is a fascinating and creative genre mashup that demonstrates Bristol's blossoming talent as an inventive filmmaker.
See You Yesterday's greatest strength is its freshness, evidenced mainly by the dynamic between CJ (Eden Duncan-Smith) and Sebastian (Dante Crichlow), the two science prodigies that invent a time travel method together. Not only is it good to see two people of color lead a film such as this, they make for a pair of solid leads for the audience to follow. The two actors are reprising their roles from Bristol's aforementioned short, and it shows in the fact that they have nice chemistry and really feel like longtime friends. Fortunately, Bristol knows better than to attempt shoehorning in a romantic element, allowing CJ and Sebastian to demonstrate a platonic love for each other. Duncan-Smith is definitely the protagonist here, delivering a compelling and emotional performance, but Crichlow shines as well and the two make for a great team.
Sadly, the rest of the ensemble is more of a mixed bag. The meatiest supporting role is that of Calvin Walker (Astro), CJ's older brother. There are a couple of scenes featuring the two siblings that establish their sweet and touching relationship, which is necessary given some of the twists in the story. CJ and Calvin's bond allows audiences to get a little more emotionally invested. Johnathan Nieves is also an entertaining presence as Eduardo, a schoolmate of CJ and Sebastian's - though for some the part might come off as a bit one-note. But most of the other actors don't have that much to do, trying to make the most of their limited screen time. There is, however, a fun meta cameo (you'll know it when you see it) that tips a hat to See You Yesterday's sci-fi influences in one of the film's most amusing scenes.
In terms of the filmmaking, the Spike Lee influence is apparent, as Bristol shot the movie in Queens and Brooklyn. The city really comes alive onscreen, feeling detailed and authentic. At times, sequences bring Lee's landmark Do the Right Thing to mind, immersing viewers in the melting pot that is New York. As for the sci-fi aspect, there are obvious budget constraints and the minimal visual effects work is definitely lo-fi. But that feels appropriate in this instance (after all, CJ and Sebastian are high schoolers) and adds to the overall charm. Bristol also does a good job of keeping the time travel logic in check so the narrative is easy to follow. The classic plot device can throw audiences for a loop every now and then, but even sci-fi novices should be able to understand how time travel works in this movie universe.
One can't fault Bristol's ambition for mixing sci-fi hijinks with more serious subject matter (police violence against unarmed minorities), but there are times where things don't gel quite as well as he's hoping for. Tonally, See You Yesterday can bounce between the humorous and somber; in a way, this does reflect the nature of everyday life, but it does create a few jarring juxtapositions throughout the running time. Additionally, the film does take a little bit to get going as Bristol works to set up the characters and time travel in the first act. This could be a byproduct of stretching a short into a feature length film, but once the story kicks into high gear, it's easy to get lost in the action. For the most part, the film is nicely paced.
All in all, See You Yesterday is an imaginative debut that has something to say about the current state of the world and illustrates Bristol's penchant for thinking outside-the-box. As his career progresses, he should be able to fine-tune his craft, ironing out any imperfect kinks that are present in this film. And Netflix is the ideal venue for this movie, as it would definitely get lost in the shuffle amidst the bigger offerings of the summer. But as a direct-to-streaming title, See You Yesterday will hopefully find an audience and expand Bristol's profile. For those looking for something original at home, See You Yesterday might do the trick.
See You Yesterday is now streaming on Netflix. It is rated TV-MA, containing adult language and violence.
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- See You Yesterday (2019) release date: May 17, 2019