“If time travel were possible it would be the greatest ethical and philosophical conundrum of the modern age. If you had that kind of power, what would you do? What would you change?”, says the charming Michael J. Fox in the opening scene of See You Yesterday, (87 minutes, Netflix), in the role of Mr. Lockhart, who is the science teacher of main characters Claudette and Sebastian at the Bronx School of Science. (I loved the nod to author Octavia Butler’s time travel masterpiece Kindred, which Mr. Lockhart is depicted reading to himself. Mr. Lockhart apparently has good taste in reading. 😉 This happens to be Fox’s last film appearance before retiring from acting.)
What It’s About
Claudette and Sebastian are super smart science nerds who are working on perfecting their time travel machine so they can win the upcoming science fair and get scholarships to their dream colleges. However, their teacher’s questions foreshadow more important motivating factors that do arise when Claudette’s brother gets shot by a police officer who mistakes him for an armed robber. His family and friends are left heartbroken. The duo decides to go back in time to try to reverse this terrible event. Like any self-respecting would-be time travelers, the duo are highly aware of the butterfly effect. Sebastian voices misgivings that they might alter the space time continuum forever and not in a good way. However, they decide they have to try.
Many books and movies involve characters embarking on a similar kind of short-term time travel to the very recent past. The basic premise is, “If I can go back in time and do something differently, I can undo a terrible outcome.” Unfortunately, if you have read any of these books, such as the ones I reviewed in this post, or seen any of the movies, you would know the attempts to fix things always lead to further complications. Of course, if there were an easy fix, there wouldn’t be much of a movie. In this film, the characters have to make some very difficult choices, and they grapple with grief and guilt.
What I Liked
There are so many positive aspects to this warm-hearted movie! There is the sweet, totally non-sexual friendship between Claudette and Sebastian. There is the way various family members and friends support each other and always have each other’s backs. I think the way the two protagonists love science and persevere together on science experiments, despite setbacks, is a good model for kids. Ditto the way that people who care about Claudette gently encourage her to examine her issue of having a temper and to rise above, without judging her. The movie is set in the Flatbush section of the Bronx, and there is a lot of multi-cultural local color which lends to the movie a strong sense of place, an element I really enjoy in a story. I love that this is a time travel story that tackles Black Lives Matter issues.
What I Didn’t Like
The movie does not have a rating. Common Sense Media says the film is appropriate for children aged 15+, however I would have let my kids see this movie when they were quite a bit younger. Yes, there are plenty of cuss words, and there is also police brutality, but the latter is all over the news anyway. It was a little irritating that the rules that seemed to govern the teens’ trips into the past, for example how much time they had to work with, seemed arbitrary. The steampunk outfits and the way the characters were sucked into the past with a lot of sparks and dust seemed hokey, although this would probably not bother younger viewers.
My biggest complaint is with the ending. Before I watched the movie, I read other reviews in which the reviewers said they were unsatisfied by the ending so I should have been prepared, but I was not. There was an indignant, “Wait–that’s the end?” moment. I feel like the emotional closing music and cinematography were conspiring to try to fool me into thinking this was a satisfying ending and they almost succeeded, but not quite. I might not have been so disappointed if the story were about adult characters, but in a movie that seems geared toward younger viewers, I wanted the ends more neatly tied up. I see the merits, though, of having the story end the way it did, so my opposition is not 100%.
Interview with Actors
Here’s a brief interview with the actors that is great.
Of Related Interest
Here’s another time travel story, this one in a graphic novel format for kids, that deals with Black Lives Matter.