CAPSULE: YESTERDAY WAS A LIE (2008)

DIRECTED BY: James Kerwin

FEATURING: Kipleigh Brown, Chase Masterson, John Newton

PLOT: A female private investigator tracks a physics professor and a sultry torch singer while looking for a notebook with clues as to why she’s trapped in a dreamlike film noir world.

Still from Yesterday Was a Lie (2008)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: “A lot of people think of it like putting puzzle pieces together,” the mystical “Singer” tells our dame Hoyle, “but I’d like to think of it as more like shutting off your left brain… realizing it’s all disconnected, or connected in a different way.” That’s advice for watching this film, and it also expresses our preferred mode of criticism here at 366 Weird Movies. That sense of camaraderie makes it more painful that we can’t recommend Yesterday Was a Lie for the List of the Best Weird Movies of all time. It’s an overambitious film that has a good heart, and mind; but the slight air of amateurism works against its weirdness. (Ironically, in stupider, sloppier movies, more profound amateurism often enhances the weirdness—it’s a fine line indeed).

COMMENTS: Yesterday Was a Lie is full of half-sketched abstract ideas about Jungian psychology, Surrealist aesthetic theory, quotes from T.S. Eliot, and fringe quantum physics, which makes it seem like it was written during a semester where the writer has yet to decide on a major. Unfortunately, he did not pay enough attention to the characterization lecture in his creative writing course. The story slides by on film references and deconstructionism, but doesn’t make us want to invest our time or emotion in the self-reflective investigations of its cipher detective chasing down arbitrary clues. The flurry of character development and plot connections that occurs in the last half hour will arrive too late for most viewers. Also (and beware that I am getting close to spoiler territory here) the final act slings the movie off in a relationship drama direction that, while organic, is nonetheless disappointing, given the cosmic buildup.

The fact that timelines twist and curl back upon each other—Hoyle keeps waking up in the hospital from the same gunshot in the shoulder, and she keeps seeing ‘s “Persistence of Memory” popping up all over—-adds to the confusion, but embarking on this much weirdness is a weighty task if you’re name is not or and you don’t have much money to work with to compose eye-catching set pieces. Conceptually and budgetarily, stretches of Yesterday remind me of a better-scripted and photographed, but worse-acted, version of the notorious PBS sci-fi production Overdrawn at the Memory Bank. Kipleigh Brown and Chase Masterson are statuesque blondes who look great in silhouette, but they lack the resources to tackle these difficult roles. Since we’re dealing with iconic film archetypes, it’s a true challenge to simultaneously evoke Bogey and/or Bacall while placing your own stamp on the characters. Switching the gumshoe gender from male to female scores a few novelty points, but Brown, though game, always looks like a cheerleader with a cute fedora and a prop highball glass as accessories. She never generates a sense of danger. By contrast, the lighting and cinematography are excellent (a gritty 1940s film grain is missed, obviously, but better to go with a crystal clear digital presentation than add an obviously fake effect). A few nicely-lit shots do not a movie make, unfortunately, and I’d be lying if I said Yesterday earned more than a “nice try” rating.

Writer/director Kerwin released an informal “web series” revolving around a minor character on the Internet; it deals with the same subject matter, though not in the same noirish style as the movie. The seven mini-episodes are now available on the production company’s website.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

a clunky David Lynchian cosmic mystery… James Kerwin’s conceptually ambitious low-budget debut offers stunning black-and-white HD cinematography, a sultry jazz score and a refreshingly high-minded script, but feels hopelessly amateurish in the acting department.”–Peter Debruge, Variety (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “BogartsHat,” who said it was “[n]ot only weird, but also a very good movie.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

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