Sophie Hyde’s debut, 52 Tuesdays, is a fictional story with the textured authenticity of a docudrama, following a teenage girl’s struggle to adjust as her mother embarks upon a female-to-male gender transition. Taking her cue from the title, the Australian director shot chronologically on that one day each week for a year, giving her cast script sections only a week at a time that pertained strictly to their characters. While some of the non-professional actors are a little stiff, cramping the film’s emotional breadth, the sensitively observed drama is distinguished by its structurally adventurous approach and the intimacy of its storytelling.
The events depicted in Matthew Cormack’s screenplay, based on Cormack and Hyde’s story, are frequently filtered through video shot by the characters, with that technology adding to the cinema verite feel.
Billie (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) starts a video diary after learning that her lesbian mother, Jane (Del Herbert-Jane), is beginning the long and psychologically taxing process of becoming a transgender man, adopting the name James. Needing life to be simplified during this transition, James sends Billie to live with his father, Tom (Beau Travis Williams), for a year, agreeing that they will meet once a week during set hours after school on Tuesdays. Billie’s confusion is increased by the hurt she feels at being the last to know; she’s way behind easygoing Tom and her uncle Harry (Mario Spate), who also lives with James and is more like a flaky big brother to Billie.
Having loved Jane unconditionally, Billie is less consistent in her feelings toward James. This compels her to seek out the company of two older schoolmates, Josh (Sam Althuizen) and Jasmine (Imogen Archer), who find room for Billie and her camera in their makeout sessions. Chopping off her hair into an androgynous pixie cut, Billie shyly begins exploring her own sexual identity, acting on her attraction to both of them. But while her video inquiry yields unguarded access to Josh and especially Jasmine, Billie reveals little about herself, inviting charges of exploitation and insensitivity, and causing tension in the romantic triangle.
James also withholds information from his daughter, keeping quiet about a relationship with work colleague Lisa (Danica Moors). But the more worrying challenge is his body’s rejection of testosterone, prompting depression and slowing down his physical transformation.
These are complicated issues, dealt with for the most part with intelligent restraint. For instance, Cormack’s screenplay waits until more than an hour into the film to have James open up to Lisa about the gradual path of self-discovery that led him to that point. He describes being a woman dressed up for the first time in male clothes and recognizing herself as “a beautiful man.” It’s perhaps the film’s most affecting scene.
Even if they risk tipping over into didacticism, James’ video recordings of meetings with other transgender people during a trip to San Francisco help contextualize the character’s experience, as does Billie’s web research into other children of transgender parents.
However, Hyde arguably overstates her themes of sexual fluidity and the rejection of strict binary gender definitions by having Billie butch up her look, putting Harry (an irritating character given to spouting on-the-nose dialogue) in touch with his feminine side, and even giving his young daughter, Frida (Audrey Mason-Hyde), a tomboyish style. Illustrating how much can happen in a year by punctuating each week’s meetings with a flash of world events – the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, a massive glacier split – also seems a tad obvious.
A slight imbalance in the way the characters are drawn inhibits the drama’s impact. James has held off on his transition for as long as possible, meaning it’s time to put his own needs first. Herbert-Jane, a non-gender-conforming individual who was a diversity consultant on the film before being cast, brings quiet depth to the role. It feels bracingly honest that James’ love for Billie doesn’t exclude frustration and even impatience with her difficult behavior.
But Cobham-Hervey, whose experience is in physical theater and circus, keeps Billie at a distance from the audience. Selfish and emotionally immature even by the standards of her age, she too rarely transmits genuine vulnerability. Josh and Jasmine are less walled-off, making their characters easier to like. The same goes for Tom, though the American-scooter-riding chef dad seems an impossibly perfect specimen of the evolved, mellow male.
Full of touching moments even if its emotional rewards remain somewhat muted, 52 Tuesdays feels highly personal and is never less than absorbing or sincere in its depiction of a non-traditional family navigating difficult changes. (David Rooney, hollywoodreporter.COM)
A teenage girl’s sexual awakening coincides with her mother’s gender transition in “52 Tuesdays,” an Australian indie with an unusual narrative gimmick: It was shot over 52 consecutive Tuesdays, and only on Tuesdays, to capture a year of life onscreen. Boasting breakout talent both in front of and behind the camera (tyro director Sophie Hyde picked up a helming prize at Sundance), this accessible and mildly provocative drama could do sturdy arthouse business in the U.S. and other English-speaking territories.
Sixteen-year-old Billie (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) has always enjoyed a close relationship with her mother (Del Herbert-Jane), which is why she’s particularly shocked to come home from school one day and discover Mom locked in the bathroom, dressed as a man. The transition is about to become permanent, and during the yearlong adjustment period, Billie’s mother — who now asks to be called James — sends Billie to live with her father, Tom (Beau Travis Williams). James promises they’ll spend every Tuesday evening after school together, and Billie reluctantly agrees.
So begins a year of major changes for both Billie and James, recorded not just by the film we’re watching but also by their own video journals. Billie finds herself drawn to a couple at her school — Josh (Sam Althuizen) and Jasmin (Imogen Archer) — and slowly establishes a friendship that turns into sexual experimentation with both of them, most of which she films for an ethically dubious art project. Meanwhile, James begins testosterone shots and takes up with a co-worker, Lisa (Danica Moors), while keeping the relationship secret from his daughter.
Hyde and screenwriter Matthew Cormack favor Billie’s fairly conventional arc over James’ less explored experiences, but throughout the pic there’s a welcome emphasis on the parent-child relationship — something that perhaps surprisingly changes very little despite James’ physical transformation. James remains fiercely protective of Billie, never more so than when Billie’s racy videotapes surface. And Billie goes through the typical mood swings of a teenage girl, some weeks refusing to visit James but also demonstrating how much she cares when he suffers a setback that sends him spiraling into depression.
The non-pro cast received their scenes one week at a time, and the choice lends their performances a compelling blend of discovery and authenticity. A thoroughly beguiling newcomer blessed with offbeat beauty and natural charm, Cobham-Hervey makes a potentially irritating character a pleasure to spend a year with, even when she’s at her most selfish. Althuizen and Archer similarly leave vivid impressions that suggest greater opportunities ahead, while Herbert-Jane (who identifies as non-gender-conforming offscreen) is entirely credible in a nuanced role that still leaves the audience wanting more.
After a few initial questions from Billie (“Do I call you dad now?” “If you’re with [a woman] are they are lesbian or are they straight?”), James’ transition becomes a secondary concern and feels strangely underdeveloped considering the film spans such a lengthy period of time. “52 Tuesdays” instead attempts to explore the fluidity of gender identity in more delicate, less penetrating ways, from Billie’s own experimentation to a whimsical scene of her family donning pirate garb and facial hair for more farcical role play. That may also be the reasoning behind the effeminate affectations of James’ obnoxious brother, Nick (Mario Spate), who lives with him and encourages Billie’s worst behavior. More compelling are the short, docu-style segments of James interviewing other trans individuals during a brief vacation to San Francisco, and Billie watching a YouTube confessional of the daughter of a transgender woman.
Nevertheless, the pic serves as a promising calling card for Hyde and close collaborators Cormack, producer Rebecca Summerton and d.p.-editor Bryan Mason, all part of the South Australian creative collective Closer Prods. (also behind the 2011 Sundance competition documentary “Shut Up Little Man!”). Their shared vision is evident in the film’s intimacy and tonal consistency. While the unique achievement of filming once a week for an entire year may have been overshadowed at Sundance by Richard Linklater’s even more ambitious “Boyhood,” “52 Tuesdays” still demonstrates a willingness to experiment that bodes well for future endeavors. (Geoff Berkshire, Variety.com)