52 Tuesdays (Sophie Hyde, 2013)
This film was born out of a pretty cool concept, which was to follow two characters that meet up one day a week for a year. The next creative decision was to actually only film on Tuesdays for one year, and no, 52 Tuesdays is not a documentary (the description confused me into thinking it might be). Director Sophie Hyde and screenwriter Matthew Cormack wrote the weekly script just one week ahead of each filming day, meaning the film’s evolution was quite unique. It was only after deciding on this structure that they chose a story and characters, and good on them for choosing something interesting. In 52 Tuesdays, sixteen year old Billie (Tilda Cobram-Hervey) discovers that her mother, Jane (Del Herbert-Jane) has made the decision to undergo a sex change to become ‘James’. Wanting some space to make this major transition, Jane/James suggests that Billie live solely with her father, Tom (Beau Travis Williams) for a year, with regular visits back home on Tuesday afternoons.
Sophie Hyde has explained in interviews that she was interested in the idea of how and when a person presents their authentic self to their child. This is an interesting concept – I know as a child I always assumed adults were perfect people who had it all together, knew the answers to everything, never cried, and only liked boring adult things like renovations and furniture shopping. As I’ve grown up and become an adult myself, with friends who have grown-up jobs like school teachers, lawyers, vets, and accountants among other things, I’ve come to realise that adults are far from perfect, have no idea what they’re doing half the time, and are not even necessarily that mature. I’m pretty sure my parents made a big effort to never cry in front of me or my brother when we were kids, and as a naïve little thing I just assumed this was because once you’re all grown up you don’t let anything get to you because you’re an ADULT (read: SUPERHUMAN). When in reality, parents hide their tears because they’re trying to be strong for your benefit, so you know you are safe in their supposedly invincible hands. And it turns out they do talk about more than just renovations and furniture, but it’s probably after the kids go to bed. I think most parents probably let their guard down more and more as their kids grow up, and their true selves are finally revealed. Sophie Hyde takes this to the extreme in 52 Tuesdays. If letting your kids see you cry is hard, telling them that you want to be a man instead of a woman is infinitely harder.
Off-screen, Del Herbert-Jane identifies as non-gender conforming and was initially the film’s gender adviser before the creative team realised she(?) was perfect for the role. She is a newbie to the screen but pulls off the role perfectly, assumedly because the character resonates somewhat with her own experiences. 52 Tuesdays feels real in its depiction of transgender issues (though I must admit I am rather ignorant on such issues), but I couldn’t help but think it didn’t quite dig deep enough. Instead the emphasis is on Billie, and her own sexual awakening, as she forges new friendships with Jasmin (Imogen Archer) and Josh (Sam Althuizen). There are obviously parallels between mother and daughter regarding sexuality and self-exploration, but I didn’t feel that the link was strongly made. Almost all of the cast are non-actors and they put in some great performances, considering. If Tilda Cobram-Hervey looks familiar it’s probably just because she looks like the old Jeans West girl from the TV ads (it isn’t her- she’s an ADULT now).
The premise of the film is an original one, with interesting themes begging to be explored. Unfortunately, because of the “let’s make it up as we go along” approach to the script, there isn’t an overly coherent narrative. Added to that, the fact that the transgender/sex-change storyline was an afterthought to the desired structure of the film means that the focus was pulled from themes about gender, to a focus on timelines. It also didn’t quite make sense why James didn’t want his own daughter to live with him, but continued to let his younger dickhead brother, Nick (Mario Spate) do so. Nick really was a dick and just seemed like a random character with no purpose other than to be annoying and hard to read. I guess it made the film seem more realistic in a sense, in that random people exist in people’s lives without necessarily having to serve a plot point. But why bother with irrelevant characters in a film? If James wanted Billie to leave so he could have some space, Nick should have pissed off too. And if James wanted her to leave because he wanted a break from parenting for a year while he got his own shit together then I just have to say: really? Do you not get how this parenting thing works? You don’t just get to have a break! Gosh.
Despite the obvious problems, I did appreciate the originality of the concept, and the themes that the film-makers attempted to explore. The cast were impressive for a bunch of mostly non-actors/unknowns and the film had a sense of honesty to it. 52 Tuesdays won the World Cinema award at Sundance this year, and yet most Australians probably haven’t even heard of it. Australian cinema is worthy of recognition so get out and start recognising it.
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