Netflix’s See You Yesterday is a pretty unique film at first glance. A couple of science nerds living in the Bronx are working on time travel for a high school expo in the hopes to get scholarships to MIT. They deal with real life issues like high school drama, discrimination and even police brutality as young African American kids in the modern cultural climate. The film, however, falls short in a lot of places and its delivery highly distracts from what is a pretty great premise overall. While it has a great story, the execution is a bit off. Its fusion of sci-fi adventure with social awareness is well done for the most part, though, and may be something to watch on concept alone.
Spoilers for See You Yesterday below:
The two kids are using the most insane, Minority Report looking gear. They casually steal it from the school lab and it looks like some Tony Stark, air projection computer system that they are just calmly operating in their garage with no difficulty. I suppose suspended belief is appreciated, but the film takes every effort to show that it is based on modern culture and technology with its social issues and 2019 setting. CJ and Sebastian are the main characters and are both pretty relatable, but some of their dialogue seems so unnatural and forced. It doesn’t feel like real conversations that high schoolers would have. At the very least, they wouldn’t speak it in that way. It feels like it was written by an older person who googled some urban dictionary entries. That combined with how weird the scientific jargon comes out of their mouths doesn’t make for an easy convo. Aside from the script, their acting performances are sufficient. Some of the acting around them, however, is simply atrocious. CJ’s ex-boyfriend, with whom the duo has a run in with at the local bodega, is so bad that I had to look him up just to see his face.
There are some endearing things about the movie. For example, their Science teacher is played by Michael J. Fox who, at the thought of them building a real time machine, declares “Great Scott!” Sebastian and CJ also run a secret gadget repair and retail store out of Sebastian’s garage, which makes for a funny scene early on. CJ’s interaction with her family also works really well. In one scene, she sucks her teeth after being told to clean the dishes and the whole house gets quiet as the Mother looks ready to slap her in the mouth. One of the film’s best actors is Parish Bradley. He plays Calvin, CJ’s older brother. He is probably the most believable actor in the film and has a great scene where he and CJ talk about missing their deceased father.
Once the time travel stuff kicks off, the film gets a bit of a tone shift. They travel back one day to the scenes we just saw a few minutes before and attempt to follow the rules of Back To The Future. They avoid their past selves, but cause an accident that will affect their future. They race back before the wormhole closes. The next scene is the two fighting about the incident. CJ does not regret the change she made, getting back at her ex-boyfriend, and Sebastian fears they are squandering a world changing invention on petty nonsense. The biggest issue with the time travel moments is the almost Spy Kids style of animation and camera-work they use while traveling through wormholes. It brings the overall polish of the film down a notch or two.
The film’s true story arises when Calvin is gunned down by a police officer mistaking him for a different African American that robbed a nearby bodega. CJ decides to tweak the machine to make it go back a full week in order to save her brother from death. Sebastian disagrees at first, but is eventually on board. There’s a weird moment in the film where the line “after my parents died” is added in through ADR. It is small, but it is super noticeable and weird to shoehorn in. It feels like that was never in the story, but added to give the scene an even sadder tone. After they tweak the rig in a montage, the duo goes for their mission.
They try and stop the shooting but run out of time. Rather than come up with a new route to travel or simply calling Calvin’s cell phone, they decide that stopping the robbery is the best course of action. The issue is that they already made one jump, so in addition to avoiding their original selves they must avoid their second set of selves from the first time jump. So now there is three sets of each of them in this timeframe. Shortly after, though, they obtain a piece of tech from a super annoying character with a crush on CJ. She agrees to a date with him for the device that will allow them to reset and theoretically erase their past jump selves. I don’t know, man. It seems weird that they spent a scene explaining that and they got rid of that conflict two minutes later. It doesn’t matter though, because CJ tries to stop the robbery and runs into Sebastian of that week. He gets caught in the crossfire and dies instead of Calvin. A tragic twist that turns into a super interesting third act.
Calvin finds the funeral program in the house after Sebastian’s funeral. CJ shows him the time travel gear and Calvin wants to go with. The problem is the second time travel device disappeared with Sebastian. She goes back to Captain Annoying and asks another favor. They need his help now that Sebastian is gone. The three of them redesign the tech using that Tony Stark stuff again. Once it is fixed, CJ goes back to save both Sebastian and Calvin. CJ gets Sebastian at the point of entry from last time and the two head to stop the shooting. She tries to explain everything to Calvin but the cops come too fast. While everyone is on the ground the cops get rough with Sebastian and Calvin notices the program with his face turn into Sebastian. He stands up and gets shot to save him. Essentially the characters are back to square one with Calvin dead and Sebastian alive. She tells him what happened and that she wants to try again, but he refuses. CJ locks him out of the garage and tries for one last jump. This time she will go alone and try to stop Calvin’s death. The film ends there, leaving the viewer uncertain as to whether or not she makes it in time. I assume the tragic ending that she spends forever trying to save him is a fitting one for such a unique film, but it just feels empty.
The movie blends genres well and could be a spectacular film with some tweaks, but we ultimately just get an okay one with the many flaws it contains. See You Yesterday is now streaming on Netflix for your viewing pleasure. Check it out and form your own opinion.
Do you like Time Travel movies? How did you like this one?