2019 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL: Filmmaker Stefon Bristol arrives on the scene as an exciting storyteller to watch out for in “See You Yesterday.” The protege of Spike Lee, who produces here, Bristol merges the New York flavor Lee is known for with a wildly creative time travel tale. A dose of “Back to the Future,” a sprinkle of “Do The Right Thing,” and the result is this extremely unique festival offering.
“See You Yesterday” is alive with the look and feel of Brooklyn. Not just an effective time travel film, it’s also a love letter to the borough. Bristol is tackling issues of police brutality, the right of marginalized citizens, and more, but he does so in a way that’s never preachy. The necessities of the time travel genre actually help him in keeping everything fresh. He has a lot on his mind and a lot to say, so this type of movie affords him ample opportunity to do so.
CJ (Eden Duncan-Smith) and Sebastian (Dante Crichlow) are best friends who just happen to be working on time travel. Having built a time machine from scratch, they’re testing it out as the film begins. Things are a bit bumpy at first, but soon they seem to have at least the makings of a working invention. It’s planned as a science project that will get them into any college, but when CJ’s half brother Calvin (Astro) is killed by police in an accidental shooting, everything changes.
It’s no longer fun and games. Now with a more urgent reason to perfect time travel, CJ and Sebastian plot to prevent Calvin’s death. But it’s not nearly as simple as they believe. In fact, the more they try, the worse the results, potentially even putting their lives at risk. When one is permanently impacted by an attempt, the other must decide if it pays to quit while they’re already way behind.
The chemistry between Dante Crichlow and Eden Duncan-Smith is natural. Duncan-Smith has more to do, but her interactions with Crichlow are always a highlight. The naturalistic turns from them both root a picture that could have potentially veered off into ridiculousness. Audiences are lead to believe them not just as best friends, but as teen geniuses who could pull off time travel. Supporting roles from Astro and Marsha Stephanie Blake are small yet crucial, while there’s a phenomenally meta cameo by Michael J. Fox. His final line is impossible not to smile at.
Co-writer/director Stefon Bristol infuses the movie with smarts at every turn. In addition, there’s as much realism as one can expect from something as out there as the subject matter of the film. A perfect example is when CJ and Sebastian first travel back in time. They have the required scene of asking people on the street what day it is. Instead of the stock result, we get a witty sequence with plenty of Brooklyn flavor. Bristol and his co-writer Fredrica Bailey showcase this talent at all opportunities. A potent stew of activist ideals and genre tropes come together to form something truly bold.
“See You Yesterday” approaches a potentially familiar tale from a whole new angle. The transition from light lark to heavier material is handled deftly, furthering the notion that Bristol is a talent to watch out for. This is moving from the festival to Netflix this month, so it will be seen by a wide audience soon. Rightly so, too. It’s one of Tribeca’s most creative works this year.