Viennale 2014 – Day 9: 52 Tuesdays

52 Tuesdays52 Tuesdays
Australia 2013
Written by Matthew Cormack & Sophie Hyde
Directed by Sophie Hyde

For most of it’s running time, “52 Tuesdays” was a wonderful film. I loved not only the themes it dealt with, but also how it dealt with them. It’s rather rare to get a depiction of a sex change on-screen, but it’s even rarer that it’s dealt with in such a delicate but also sober manner. The fact that “52 Tuesdays” additionally features an also rather untraditional three-way relationship – that, on top of that, actually works for most of the time – was the icing on the cake.

I’m sure there’s a Hollywood version of this movie somewhere, where they either make a blatant (and possibly offensive) comedy out of it, or a clichéd drama. Which, thankfully, is not what Sophie Hyde is doing here (well, at least not for most of it’s running time, but we’ll come to that). I also loved the fact that while Billie does her best to support her mum (and upcoming dad), the movie doesn’t gloss over the fact that the transition is very hard for her. Billie is 16, old enough to know what is going on, but at this very delicate age where she’s trying to find her own self, her own personality, and also her own sexuality. It’s probably the time in her life where she would have needed her mum – who also always has been her best and closest friend – the most. But the transition that James goes through totally changes that relationship. Add to that the fact that James needs time for himself, thus Billie has to move to her father and only sees her former mum every Tuesday for a year (hence the title. Duh.) is not helping either. Still, James is never made out to be the bad guy in this story. It’s clear that he put off this transformation until Billie, in his eyes, was old enough to deal with it. It’s who he is, and now, finally, he has the chance to let go and be himself, and to give in to this life-long urge. It’s a tough time for both of them, because both go through phases of transition, and the conflicts that arise from that always feel natural and realistic.

The acting is superb. Tilda Cobham-Hervey gives a heartfelt performances as Billie, who mourns the loss of her mother, and struggles with the changes in her life. Not only her mothers transformation to a man, but also the move to her father, and of course her own puberty. Del Herbert-Jane as James also stands out. I couldn’t find any information on IMDB – where he’s listed as a man – if he really went through a sex change; which, ultimately, doesn’t really matter (and it’s also none of my business), but it goes a long way to show you how believable his performance (and the make-up etc.) was. The concept of the movie, with the titular 52 Tuesdays, can feel a little bit like a gimmick from time to time. Also, there was a certain distance between me and what was happening on-screen, because we only get to see a couple of minutes from each Tuesday, without really learning what happens in between. On the other hand, this unusual structure is one other element that makes “52 Tuesdays” stand out from the crowd, and Sophia Hyde has a good instinct for what to show us and when to speed things up. Also, each Tuesday is different, and of course, it’s not always just about Billie and James, but also about her new friends, with whom she also only meets on every Tuesday (something that can feel a little forced sometimes, but I was willing to roll with it, because I really loved how this relationship was depicted).

Unfortunately, after 80 gripping minutes, “52 Tuesdays” starts to go south. It starts with the way all that video project business is handled, which – in a movie that otherwise deals with controversial topics in a refreshingly straight-forward and open-minded manner – feels surprisingly conservative and, given the far from traditional lifestyle of James, even hypocritical. To add insult to injury, the fact that her female teenage friend rats Billie out felt rather implausible and staged to me. What really made me mad, though, was the family emergency near the end. First: the ticking clock is used in such a cheap way, in order to amp up the tension, that it really threw me off. The worst thing, however, is the aforementioned family emergency itself. For 50 Tuesdays, “52 Tuesdays” steered clear of clichés, only to stumble into one of the biggest that the genre has to offer: The tragic occurrence that after a big fight and/or a long, hard struggle, finally brings the family together again. Which is a total cheat, because instead of making the characters work for the happy ending and to make them steer their way through all the obstacles that stand between them, it’s offered to them on a silver platter. Suddenly, all the problems evaporate, or at least they don’t seem so important any more, in light of this new development. If Hollywood should ever attempt to remake “52 Tuesdays”, they might change quite a few things over the course of the movie – but there’s no reason for them to change anything about the ending, because it’s as clichéd and traditional as they come. Which, after such an extraordinary and unconventional movie, was a huge letdown for me.
6/10


IMDB

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