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'Tuesday' Review

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June 13, 2024
Hunter Friesen
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Death has come in all different shapes and sizes throughout times and cultures. In Christianity, Death is one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the Pale Horseman to be exact. In many Romantic language regions (France, Portugal, Italy), it is mostly personified as a female figure, with other areas of Europe seeing it as more Grim Reaper-like with a skeletal frame and a scythe. And in Asia, Death takes the form of a bureaucrat, an escort between the lands of the living and dead.

Considering all the different physical and temperamental interpretations of Death throughout human history, its presence as a talking macaw bird in Daina Oniunas-Pusic’s Tuesday shouldn’t come as anything out of the ordinary. Of course, that’s easier said than done, especially with Oniunas-Pusic introducing us to this celestial being as it traverses the Earth collecting the souls who are at its doorstep, many of them leaving this world in fear and confusion. No matter the form it takes, Death does come for us all, and you’ll never know when and how it’ll show its face.

For the 15-year-old titular character (Lola Petticrew), Death has been stalking her for months now in the form of an unspecified terminal illness. It’s felt each time she takes a wheezing breath, and whenever her stay-at-home nurse tries to steer the conversation away from anything too morbid. But when that fateful bird actually does come for her one day, she doesn’t plead or cry. Instead, she tells it a joke and offers to give it a bath, as the blackness of death has clouded its bright orange feathers.

Like Superman, the bird can hear everyone’s dying thoughts at all times. The piercing sound design elevates the overwhelming fear and discomfort of that situation, a neverending stream of people revealing themselves in their final moments. On the other end of that problem is Tuesday’s mother Zora (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), who refuses to listen to her daughter’s pleadings about their situation.

To reveal anything more about the plot would diminish the experience of witnessing it first-hand. Oniunas-Pusic’s vision for her story knows no bounds, reaching further down the rabbit hole than even your wildest predictions could have covered. And even if I did tell all within this review, you still wouldn’t have all the necessary information to make a decision on whether it all works or not. The directions the film goes down have to be felt to be processed, many of them likely to not fully reveal themselves until much later down the road. It’s like trying a new food. Sure, you can read all the ingredients and form an opinion in your head whether you would like it. But you can’t know for sure until you stop thinking and just put it in your mouth. The gamble is part of the process.

That inability to fully comprehend everything solely through text complements the actor’s trust in Oniunas-Pusic. Petticrew and Louis-Dreyfus are tasked with extremely challenging jobs, acting opposite a CGI creation (a very convincing one) and navigating the extremely thin tonal tightrope this film often finds itself balancing on. Each of them is dealing with the five stages of grief in their own way, Petticrew being further along into acceptance and Louis-Dreyfus stuck in denial. Special mention does have to be made to Arinzé Kene for his motion capture performance and vocal work as the macaw, both of them making the bird into just as much a character as what Andy Serkis has done with his creations over the years.

Would a conventional narrative track for this story result in a more cohesive and stronger emotional pull? Perhaps. But there are still several tearjerking moments between mother and daughter, one of which takes place on a beach seemingly secluded from the rest of humanity. And fear not all you haters of weepy terminal illness dramas, as no boy is trying to romance Tuesday in her final days, nor does Zora go through the clichéd motions of dealing with her sadness.

It all comes together to make something more than the sum of its parts, which are all equally fascinating to pick apart and dissect. I’m still doing that as I type out this review, and I’m sure to continue doing it throughout the year. Death is not something that can be neatly packaged and processed, so it makes sense that a film about it would refuse to trek down the well-laid path that so many have gone down before.

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