“52 Tuesdays” is a year in the life of an LGBT family

on

What a difference a year makes. This idea is at the heart of 52 Tuesdays, which takes transition as its subject matter, the transition from female to male of a mother and the transition from child to adult of a daughter. Yet even as the film fixates on the idea of change—struggles to pinpoint the exact moment when the bow breaks or the ice cracks, throws up its hands sometimes at the impossibility of knowing—it also takes for granted a great deal of societal change that impede, allow, or confuse the characters’ journeys.

52 Tuesdays is the first feature from Australian director Sophie Hyde, who conceived of its central conceit before the story itself.  The film was shot every Tuesday for a year and edited so that all the Tuesdays appear in chronological order. The film is further framed by the self-made videos of the two protagonists as they chart their progress. Shot on a shoestring budget and with all non-professional actors, 52 Tuesdays is, if nothing else, a stunningly self-assured debut that deftly turns its limitations into its assets.

32328.large

We open on the first Tuesday, when 15-year-old Billie witnesses another young couple furiously coaxing each other to orgasm, and makes a silent but intense connection with the female of the pair. She goes home, desperate (for some reason) to tell her mother about this experience, but when she arrives there, her mother announces that: He will now be known as James, and plans to undergo testosterone injections and top surgery, and Billie has to go live with her father while James figures out his new identity. They plan to see each other for a few hours every Tuesday.

If there is a problem with trans portrayals in this film, it lies here. The once-a-week arrangement is bafflingly bad parenting, and makes Billie feel confused, estranged, and deeply inadequate. Yet it’s also refreshing to see a fully realized trans character; though James is soulful and sympathetic, he’s often quite selfish. Less believable is the implication that Billie’s sexual odyssey is her attempt to figure out the sensations she experienced that first Tuesday and couldn’t talk about with her mother, who now has his own fish to fry. Outside of The Gilmore Girls, most teenagers aren’t pining to discuss every detail of their budding sexuality with their mothers.

tuesdays1

After that first Tuesday, Billie and James set off on their journeys, both together and separately. James is, at least initially, thrilled to be embarking on a long postponed journey in his evolution from straight woman to lesbian and now to trans man. Del Herbert-Jane, the non gender-conforming actor playing James really does achieve something remarkable in their performance, finding confidence and hope all the time. We don’t get to see James’ have a remarkable physical transformation because midway through the film he has an adverse reaction to the testosterone, and sinks into a deep depression when the treatments stop. 

Like a lot of recent works (Transamerica, Transparent) 52 Tuesdays’ trans character is a parent coming to terms with their identity later in life.But unlike many earlier works, Tuesdays doesn’t use this as an excuse to become more about family members’ shocked reactions than the character’s journey. The film assumes a baseline of acceptance on the part of its audience and characters; queerness abounds in this film and for the most part goes unquestioned. The only person who stubbornly refuses to switch James’ pronouns is Billie’s father, and even he seems to only be going through the motions of bitter transphobia. But accepting her mom doesn’t mean that Billie isn’t confused about what this transition mean. Would life have been easier had she never been born? Whom does she turn to now that her model of femininity is casting off that label?

It’s questions like these that make Billie’s story even more compelling than her mother’s (“mother” being the term Billie uses for James throughout, even as the film laments the paltry handful of words they have to choose from to define their relationship). Newcomer Tilda Cobham-Hervey has the luminous intensity of Romeo + Juliette-era Claire Danes, and some of the film’s best moments are long shots of her face, lost in thought and wonder.

As Billie drifts away from James, she falls into the orbit of Josh and Jasmine, two sexually adventurous teens whose experimentation she obsessively documents and eventually participates in. She takes for granted that theirs is a world of confidence and authenticity, as opposed to the playacting and mimicry that is her own small sexual world. She clings to this notion even as it becomes clear that Jasmine wants more from her than free-spirited threesomes. Yet as much as their innocence and attraction for one another is beguiling, the teens seem wary of developing actual feelings for one another. None of the adults seem to have much of a problem with Billie’s bisexual exploits, only the fact that she’s secretly filming them in a sex warehouse her gay uncle lent her (I was going to say that part makes more sense once you watch the movie, but that’s not really true).

tuesdays 2

The greatest flaw of 52 Tuesdays isn’t its budget, amateur actors, or the year-long limits it places on itself.  It’s the curious joylessness with which it treats the people under its microscope. Most of the film is shot with gloomy blue filters (which must be on sale of Australia because Janet King and Wentworth are guilty of the same style when they want to seem gritty).  While to some extent that’s a fair depiction of what I remember as the forced death march of adolescence, it also leads to a somewhat flat viewing experience. One wonders if it might have benefited from being called 52 Saturdays. There are moments of happiness—the family dons fake beards and dances around the house to add some levity to James’ transition, James wakes up in bed with a kind and loving woman, Billie and Jasmine make shy eyes at each other while lying in the grass—and those are the moments that will stay with me from this film.

Remarkable on its own, and even more remarkable as an artifact of the brave new world in which we now live, 52 Tuesdays carries with it the promise of more great things from its director and its stars.  Let’s hope the next year is a little better for everybody.

52 Tuesdays is now available for digital rental on Fandor. You can also catch the film in select theaters and festivals.

More you may like