Film noir had its boom in the 1940s and 1950s. It never really went away after that, echoing in hundreds of films made since. Writer-director James Kerwin’s first feature Yesterday Was a Lie draws heavily from the classic genre. Hoyle (Kipleigh Brown) is a noir archetype, a private investigator in a trench coat with a love of bourbon. The only thing separating her from the other detectives in the genre is her gender. Yesterday Was a Lie’s mystery is more existential than other noir films. For Hoyle, time isn’t moving in a linear fashion, and she’s trying to figure out why.
She’s searching for a notebook. She’s not sure what’s in it, but she thinks it’s going to help her figure out why time isn’t flowing as it should be.
Yesterday Was a Lie makes it clear early on that there won’t be an easy answer, explaining that “Things don’t always fit perfectly. Sometimes it’s the rough edges that make life interesting.” It proceeds to give clue after clue about what might be going on though, drawing from a variety of sources. Kerwin’s characters make repeated references to the poet T.S. Eliot. Like the film, Eliot’s work is notorious for being densely layered, filled with allusions. In Eliot’s poems, there are near constant references to Greek Mythology. In Yesterday Was a Lie, the references are to Eliot, Salvador Dalí, Richard Feynman, easy listening music, and Carl Jung.
Through the film, it feels like all of this heady stuff is building toward something bigger. Dalí’s Persistence of Memory shows a number of melting clocks, seeming to be a visual representation of what’s happening to Hoyle. Or maybe it has more to do with something she hears on a radio program in a cab, “Jung said the unconscious knows things… He called it ‘absolute knowledge’ and it can be tapped into in dreams.” Or perhaps what’s happening is, “The old illusion of God’s chess game. [Physicist Richard] Feynman called it that. We can watch the game, but we don’t know the rules yet.” Hoyle, in this case, would be the observer.
All of this would be insufferable if Yesterday Was a Lie didn’t have a healthy humor running through the film. Frequently, there’s wordplay. When Hoyle meets the singer (Chase Masterson), they have two misunderstandings. Hoyle says, “Nice set.” She means the singers performance, and the singer thinks Hoyle is referring to the singer’s chest. When the awkwardness resolves, the singer asks what Hoyle’s working on, referring to her drink but Hoyle goes off about her frustrations with her current case. It’s funny, and makes the bigger ideas easier to swallow.
Chase Masterson’s singing is another highlight. She’s got a beautiful voice, and gets to sing two or three easy listening songs, all of which comment on the bigger questions the film is asking. One of them has the title of the film in it.
Kerwin shoots in black and white, copping as much of the film noir aesthetic as he can. There are repeated shots of streets bright with white smoke. Everything women wear is low cut and tight, calling to genre’s femme fatales. Men wear suits and trench coats. The dialogue is clipped, all “ya”s instead of “you”s.
Yesterday Was a Lie would be a lot of fun if the ending wasn’t such a let down. After an hour and twenty minutes of existential detective action, filling the viewers head with college-level references, and promises that the rough edges of these puzzle pieces won’t fit together, everything ties up nicely. It’s obnoxious. It’s saccharine. It takes every badass thing that Hoyle has done through the course of the film and flips it so it’s in the service of managing a male character’s feeling. Even without the strange sexism making a woman responsible for a man’s emotions, the ending is a massive disappointment because Kerwin has built the expectation that this is a film about ideas too big to have answers. A movie that questions the forces that govern the universe or lack thereof wrapping up neatly feels like a letd own because those questions don’t have neat answers.
The ten year anniversary Blu-ray is chock full of special features. There’s an excellent audio commentary with Kerwin, Brown, and Masterson. There are six featurettes—three with the actors discussing their characters, one with Kerwin talking about directing, and “Noir and the Heroine.”
Wicked Rating – 6/10
Director: James Kerwin
Writer: James Kerwin
Stars: Kipleigh Brown, Chase Masterson, John Newton
Release Date: November 12, 2019 (Blu-ray/DVD)
Studio/Production Company: Helicon Arts Cooperative
Sub-Genre: Film Noir