Netflix’s recently released drama See You Yesterday presents an engaging blend of high concept sci-fi and an uncompromising grounded reality.
Directed and co-written by Stefon Bristol, the film follows C.J. and Sebastian – two genius NYC-based teenagers who discover time travel. When C.J.’s brother is racially profiled and killed while unarmed by police, the two repeatedly travel back in time to prevent the tragedy from occurring.
After looking at the credits it’s no surprise that Spike Lee serves as a producer on See You Yesterday. The acclaimed director’s touch can be felt throughout the film in the best ways. Like Lee, Bristol and co-writer Fredrica Bailey craft a film examining racial issues that are seen on a daily basis throughout the United States, but through an intimate lens. C.J.’s and Sebastian’s setting inside New York City feels vibrant and filled with personality reminiscent of Lee’s filmography like Crooklyn. In one moment C.J. and Sebastian visit a bodega, giving the owner Carlito a friendly fist bump and hand shake as they enter. As the two protagonists travel through their familiar city hotspots such as Brooklyn, these little details make their world feel tangible and lived-in.
Though this is a world where C.J.’s and Sebastian’s brilliant minds should allow them limitless opportunity, their existence as black teenagers presents dangers that could cut their future unexpectedly short at any place and time. When C.J. and her brother Calvin have an argument on a neighborhood sidewalk that gets slightly heated, police show up; the officers angrily scold the two, demanding identification. It’s this real-world constant threat of racism that ends up taking the life of Calvin, and provides high stakes for this time traveling tale.
The authenticity of See You Yesterday also stems from the script by Bristol and Bailey. The dialogue possesses a breezy and naturalistic quality which helps create characters you can easily invest in; when talking C.J. and Sebastian swear and joke around like teens do. At Carlito’s bodega when Sebastian asks C.J. to get her a red slushie, she tells him red’s not a flavor. “I don’t see a red label, so your ass is getting blue raspberry,” she playfully teases.
The dialogue and story wouldn’t be as resonant without its charismatic main cast members. Eden Duncan-Smith and Danté Crichlow possess a great dynamic as C.J. and Sebastian that’s allowed to run the gamut. Whether bantering back and forth as friends, engaging in techno babble, or arguing about the potential consequences of time travel they always give the material an emotional weight. Early in the film when C.J. and Sebastian make a first successful attempt to jump back in time, Duncan-Smith and Crichlow give their characters a palpable glee as they revel in their success. Brian ‘Stro’ Bradley also gives a quietly affecting performance as Calvin, a supportive and kind brother whose life is swiftly ended.
With a timely story that’s both rooted in science fiction and the issues of today, Netflix’s See You Yesterday is one not to let slide under your radar. You may not have the ability to travel back in time, but this impactful film will make you want to go back and watch it again.