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Tuesday Is All Beak and No Bite

Movies Reviews Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Tuesday Is All Beak and No Bite

It’s hard to outright hate Tuesday, the first feature from writer/director Daina O. Pusić. There’s an admirable quality to how left of center it continuously veers throughout its (admittedly taxing) 111-minute runtime, the least preposterous aspect being the shape-shifting CGI macaw—symbolizing death incarnate—that guides most of the dramatic arc. Yet the film’s confounding tonal discordance, salvaged only in spurts by a commendable performance from Julia Louis-Dreyfus, makes its observations far more embarrassing than existential.

Louis-Dreyfus plays Zora, an American living in the U.K. with her British-born daughter, Tuesday (Lola Petticrew). While the circumstances for Zora’s residence abroad are never expanded upon—likely the result of partnering with Tuesday’s father, who is no longer in the picture—she is left to navigate mounting medical costs as her daughter physically degenerates from a terminal illness. As opposed to savoring every second left with Tuesday, Zora creates a chasm of distance between herself and her daughter, unable to cope with the reality of her diagnosis. She hires a home care aide, Nurse Billie (Leah Harvey), to tend to the wheelchair-using 15-year-old’s needs and, by proxy, provide the emotional connection that an absentee mother cannot.

However, the toll of Tuesday’s illness looms large in Zora’s daily life: She is secretly no longer working, instead hocking her once-expansive art collection to make ends meet. To keep up appearances (and keep an arm’s length from Tuesday’s worsening condition), Zora leaves their charming flat each morning and returns late in the evening, divulging fabricated work drama to Tuesday while tucking her in. Disrupting this façade is the arrival of a squalid macaw who appears before Tuesday in the garden on a spring afternoon. The film’s opening reveals that this bird is, essentially, the Grim Reaper, shuffling life off of this mortal coil with a wave of his wing. When it has what appears to be a sudden panic attack, Tuesday provides comfort and gives the “filthy” creature a bath.

In exchange for the girl’s generosity, Death agrees, in an almost inhuman purr, to wait until her mother comes home before ending her life. After hours of aimlessly meandering in the park, Zora returns, only to be greeted with a stony-faced Tuesday confessing the inevitability of her demise that night. Believing this to be pessimistic backlash for her daily departures, Zora verbally reprimands her daughter for the statement. When the now-miniature macaw flies out of Tuesday’s ear canal and presents itself, the force of a mother’s rage—and denial—are presented as perhaps the only match for Death’s grave power.

To expand on specific plot details beyond this point would be a disservice to those curious enough to see the film, but know that this is only skimming the surface of Tuesday’s commitment to absurdity. To name a few particularly outlandish moments: there’s intra-species weed smoking, a rap battle, quasi-apocalyptic occurrences and a scene where Zora unexpectedly eats something vile then goes through a peculiar transformation. For a film that claims to focus on the intense and varied ways that grief can manifest, it’s somewhat understandable to try to challenge the singularity of “sadness” as the only appropriate tone for stories about death. Pusić’s film nonetheless suffers from an inconsistency in tone; it’s perfectly fine to have jokes and moments of levity while exploring this topic, but the problem with Tuesday is that scenes meant to play out as genuine read as, for lack of a better word, downright cringeworthy (for example, Tuesday’s cliched deep-breathing tips for an age-old metaphysical being). 

For the film’s many flaws, Louis-Dreyfus’ performance is actually quite strong. She’s the only participant who seems adept at navigating the unique demands of the material, delivering lines that teeter between hilarious and devastating. To be fair, her possessing the range for a project with such an immense scope was never in question, but it’s still unfortunate that no one could meet the actress at her level. Petticrew’s performance isn’t awful, but she spends so much time talking to her CGI companion that her turn as Tuesday is imbued with an uncanniness that, even within the film’s general bizarreness, stills feels incongruous.

Despite Pusić hoping to challenge the popular narrative about confronting death, Tuesday is that reductive stereotype: a pious terminal patient. The teenager does lash out at times, namely at Zora, but her mother’s deviance validates the emotion behind these exchanges. The film crams countless otherworldly elements into the narrative, yet it never quite takes the time to flesh out its central characters past “self-absorbed single mother” and “selfless sick girl.” 

As a co-production between A24, BFI and BBC Film, it’s perplexing that Tuesday emerged as such a sloppy hodgepodge of thematic interests. You’d think that three production arms with a concerted focus on platforming emerging filmmakers would have had the foresight to reel in at least some of Pusić’s ambitious swings. One must wonder what feedback was given and, perhaps, if the final product is truthfully more tame than what the filmmaker originally conceived. 

That being said, the bulk of the blame should likely lay with the industry executives who gave this the green light rather than a first-time feature filmmaker. While Pusić may have had some award recognition for her short films, any artist would need constructive aid when tackling a scaled-up, ambitious endeavor like this. Before Tuesday’s New York premiere, the director addressed the audience by urging everyone to “be gentle” with the film due to the intensely personal place she vows it came from. Unfortunately, art that relies on the kindness of strangers is rarely able to stand on its own merit.

Director: Daina O. Pusić
Writer: Daina O. Pusić 
Stars: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Lola Petticrew, Leah Harvey, Arinzé Kene
Release Date: June 14, 2023


Natalia Keogan is a freelance writer and editor with a concerted focus on independent film. Her interviews and criticism have appeared in Filmmaker Magazine, Reverse Shot, Backstage Magazine, SlashFilm, Blood Knife and Daily Grindhouse, among others. She lives in Queens, New York with her large orange cat. Find her on Twitter @nataliakeogan

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