See you yesterday
In See You Yesterday, best friends Claudette ‘CJ’ Walker (Eden Duncan-Smith) and Sebastian ‘Bash’ Thomas (Dante Crichlow) go back in time to save CJ’s brother’s life after he falls victim to police brutality. The film, which combines social commentary on police brutality with sci-fi, is the debut film from director Stefon Bristol, Spike Lee’s mentee. CJ and Bash originally design this time machine for their science fair in an effort to obtain scholarships to MIT and Morehouse. However, a question from their teacher, Mr Lockhart, forms the basis on which the time travel is connected to the police brutality: Mr Lockhart asks what CJ and Bash would do if they had the power to alter time. When CJ’s brother, Calvin, is murdered by the police, Mr Lockhart’s question is answered - CJ and Bash’s mission for the rest of the film is to use their time travel contraptions to save Calvin’s life.
Plot lines (6.5/10)
The idea of giving the escapism of time travel social meaning or relevance by applying it to police brutality is excellent in theory, as it raises awareness and educates the audience while also providing entertainment. Unfortunately, the technicality of the time travel in this movie detracts from the plot. The time travel seems oversimplified - CJ can simply head home after a bout of time travel to make plans to rectify a mistake she has made on her trip to Yesterday, and in no time, she is back in Yesterday making even more mistakes, and then heading back to Yesterday immediately after her return to the present to try and fix the last trip’s mistakes, and the cycle continues in what seems like a never-ending loop. This repetitiveness diminishes the potential excitement and suspense that the plot could have inspired, as the plotline becomes more and more predictable once we see CJ can simply go back and rectify any issues. After about three trips to Yesterday, we realise that nothing can leave us on the edge of our seats or wondering what happened - after all, CJ can just go back and change things again. Additionally, the fact that CJ can just travel to Yesterday to fix things takes away from the scope for an end to the story, which may contribute to the reason for the ending we were provided with; there is a limited opportunity for any finality without it resulting in a simplified ‘happy ending’ where CJ saves Calvin perfectly.
These problems with the technicality of the time travel detract from the focus on the actual police brutality case. The theme runs throughout the movie, but we don’t actually see it occur until the end, by which time the frustration that has built due to the numerous failures in trying to rectify the case slightly skew our focus away from the police brutality in itself. Our exasperation surrounding the numerous attempts to save Calvin’s life gets tangled up with our exasperation regarding the gross inhumanness and injustice of police brutality. Thus, we witness an imbalance between the social commentary and sci-fi in this movie due to the overextension of the time travel plot, attributable to the lack of finality in its technicality; this hampers the potentially excellent plotline.
At times, the dialogue was quite on the nose, leaving the viewer with limited subtleties to detect. For example, after Calvin’s death, when CJ’s mother tells her that if she could go back and fix things she would, it seemed to us to be a rather blatant line to have in a movie about time travel, and CJ’s response was naturally expected and predictable. The same applies to Calvin’s sudden sentiment that Bash’s death should’ve been him; this seemed to have been introduced purely for the purpose of alluding to the fact that it really was originally him. No reason was provided for Calvin’s seemingly out of the blue feeling like it should have been him, thus this line seems awkwardly and unnaturally placed. This kind of obvious, predictable dialogue comes across to us as quite unsophisticated.
Some aspects of the dialogue also seemed rather unnecessary, as they made no real contribution to the movie at all - the scene where CJ defends Bash against Jared is the most notable case to us, as the conversation about CJ’s past with Jared seems sudden, irrelevant to any aspect of the plot, rather cringe. Another point where we found the dialogue unnatural was Bash’s grandma’s comment that CJ still has a brother, Bash, when her brother Calvin dies. Still having Bash in her life does not seem very relevant to the situation at hand, especially given that brothers are not simply objects that one can replace, thus this sentence seemed slightly clumsy to us.
The dialogue in the final police brutality scene was extremely exasperating to watch, and while it’s unclear whether this was intentional, to contribute to the chaos and frustration of the situation at hand to make for an interesting movie, it was quite unbelievable that CJ couldn’t simply explain what she had gone to such great lengths to explain to Calvin. It detracted from the drama being built up in this scene, because it was almost laughable that CJ would stick Calvin’s funeral programme in his face and scream ‘you’re going to get killed’ and expect him to understand what was going on. Again, this might have been intentional, and necessary for the subsequent events that occurred, but it was off-putting simply due to how unrealistic and frustrating the dialogue in this scene seemed.
Despite these issues, there were some parts of the dialogue, particularly between CJ and Bash, that was endearing. This helped highlight and appreciate the idea of friends being the family you choose presented in the movie, which contributed to the prevalent theme of familial love in the movie.
For the most part, the actors appear to successfully execute the roles that have been set out for them. For example, Duncan-Smith does a great job of portraying CJ’s inquisitive, ambitious, intelligent yet sometimes impulsive character, and Bash’s character always felt like a breath of fresh air to us which is a testament to his character arc as well as Crichlow’s acting; as a whole Bash’s character was more realistic, as his dialogue seemed to suit his character quite well. A’s acting was also impressive, through the passion he exuded throughout his role.
However, a few times, the acting seemed less believable. Firstly, in the mourning scene after Calvin’s death, more could have been done to help the viewer digest what had happened and to evoke an emotional response, before quickly resorting to time travel. Secondly, the way some of the characters’ words, slang and accents came across sounded rather disjointed in certain places, particularly in some scenes with CJ and with Bash’s grandparents, where there was dissent between the lingo or accent used and the aggregate image created around the character.
The issues we flagged with the technicality of the time travel presented in this movie, coupled with the sometimes unnatural, unrealistic dialogue, are a let down, which is a shame given the seemingly promising plot. The execution obstructs the full potential of the story from being realised in this movie.