Directed by Sophie Hyde
Sixteen-year-old Billie’s reluctant path to independence is accelerated when her mother reveals plans for gender transition, and their time together becomes limited to Tuesdays. This emotionally charged story of desire, responsibility, and transformation was filmed over the course of a year—once a week, every week, only on Tuesdays.
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★★★½ review by Michael Scott on Letterboxd
There's no denying it'd be easy to pick apart Sophie Hyde's transformative transformation drama, 52 Tuesdays. But, before you start, you'd do well to keep in mind that, if you do, you'll end up unravelling everything that makes this remarkable little film work in the first place.
Shot week by week, over a year of consecutive Tuesdays, Hyde's film insightfully tracks two very different stories of becoming. The first and ostensibly the most important is the FTM gender transition of Jane to James, a transition that also entails, on one level at least, a transition from mother to father. To provide the space he needs to reassemble himself, James' 17 year old daughter, Billie, is relegated to seeing him for just one night a week. Each Tuesday, from the time Billie gets off school till 10pm, the two share some quality private time. As you'd expect, those hours are filled with a fair amount of conflict.
The other transition, the one which surprisingly turns out to be the more interesting, is Billie's journey to womanhood. At school she falls in with two senior students, whom she leads into an explicit externalisation of her sexual and emotional confusion. What starts out as an outlandish bout of "acting out" eventually becomes an compelling counterpoint to James' increasingly egocentric expression of his new self.
Piecing a film together week by week has inevitably resulted in a somewhat haphazard final product but 52 Tuesdays wears that badge with a fragile pride. The film undeniably feels assembled after the fact but the careful direction of Hyde and some deft scripting from screenwriter Matthew Cormack means their work feels more honest than contrived, even when it steps into its most unwieldy thematic territory.
The performances, which obviously play a significant role in bedding down the film's unwavering honesty, are truthful to a fault. Tilda Cobham-Hervey, who plays Billie, does an exceptional job of relating the young girl's fractured world through her pointed stoicism, and Del Herbert-Jane, who was originally brought in as an advisor on the film, is rock solid as James. Kudos to the production for casting a non gender-conforming actor in the role. Their faith has paid off, and then some; Herbert-Jane just gets it.
The supporting cast are similarly excellent, especially Beau Travis Williams as Billie's till-now-less-than-present father. I do admit I struggled somewhat with Mario Späte's anarchic characterisation of Billie's gay-coded uncle, Harry. His manipulative turns unbalanced the film in ways that didn't feel entirely motivated, especially in the fallout of the final act. But that's a minor bone of contention when all things are considered.
All in all, 52 Tuesdays is a resounding achievement. It is fresh, sincere and ultimately very moving. Not bad for a film shot on the sly with an amateur cast and next to no crew. Proof positive that real, honest, well-told stories can still find their way to our screens.
52 Tuesdays screened as part of the 2014 Melbourne Queer Film Festival.
★★★½ review by Ella on Letterboxd
"Same time, every week, without fail."
While I wish I had time to get thoughts down as soon as I watched it, at the same time I'm glad I didn't because, as sad as it is, 52 Tuesdays hasn't stuck with me as much as I had hoped.
There is much to applaud about Sophie Hyde's narrative debut. It takes a potentially gimmicky, problematic concept and goes with it quite nicely, making the production of the film quite enthralling to read about. For non-actors, the performances are great, and there's something uniquely moving (like will be found in Boyhood, I presume) about watching characters personalities, dress, and appearance change and develop over a year, in real time.
However, this is where the majority of the films' issues lie, mostly through no fault of its own. When playing the same character once a week for a year, they tend to become ingrained in the actors' psyche, which is not always best for the performance. It results in the feeling that the character has been overwritten, even when it hasn't been, moving from being complex and layered to wafer-thin, where every beat of an action has been laid out bare.
This, added with the fact that the character of Billie is at times incredibly infuriating makes for a film that is hard to feel emotionally attached to or find anything redeeming about.
(Preface: sorry if this paragraph makes me sound like an entitled idiot. I promise I'm not.)
Being a girl around Billie's age, I expected to be able to empathise with her actions quite a bit, and I did to what she was going through at home, to quite an extent, but other times, I was just wishing that she could see that what she was doing is so wrong. This is not something that usually bothers me, but I just couldn't push away the fact that she's someone I would usually avoid with a ten-foot pole. In fact, 52 Tuesdays had me sometimes wishing that the focus was solely on James' year instead.
52 Tuesdays, while the close proximity of the actors to the production doesn't always work in its favour, is a fine film, and certainly a landmark in recent Australian cinema. An intriguing, assured take on a character study, Sophie Hyde is definitely one to watch in the future.
Side note: the final Tuesday is my birthday!
★★★★ review by Luke Kane on Letterboxd
52 Tuesdays covers one year in the life of sixteen-year-old Billie as her mother goes through gender reassignment to become a man - and the effect it has on her own sexual awakening. At the beginning of the film her mother asks Billie to move out for one year. She says that living alone is a necessary part of her transition. Billie doesn't hide her hurt and they make a deal: she can come and visit her mother every Tuesday. What follows are a series of titles that track the next 52 Tuesdays - and the mounting strain between mother and daughter, who are both in a state of transition. Interestingly, this film was shot every Tuesday over one year. The sequences are broken up with quick cuts of news footage to emphasise the insular nature of these character's lives.
Two great performances are at the heart of this film: Tilda Cobham-Hervey brings a fresh-faced intelligence and wit to the naive but audacious Billie, and Del Herbert-Jane, as her mother, 'James', inhabits the mother character with dignity and earnestness. Their scenes together are bold, funny, heartbreaking and often electric. The film concerns itself with two other stories: Billie's interactions with a pair of students she catches making out one day after school, and with a gay uncle who lives with her mother. The supporting performances are all strong, but a subplot involving a stolen sex tape sets up a confusing question that is never answered, which ultimately distracts from the film's central theme: the relationship between mother and daughter.
The movie is obsessed with recording devices. Between sequences we see cuts of Billie filming herself. We also see James tracking his/her progress on video and searching these recordings regularly for minute changes to her physical appearance. This technique is employed to give the audience a sense of time passing and it works. We do feel a year go snappily by, and in that time we are asked a lot of difficult questions. For instance, early on in the process, during one of their many conversations, Billie asks her mother, 'So will the women you date be lesbians or straight?' James appears disturbed by the question and doesn't answer. Other questions are harder still. James is at one point asked by a different character, 'Do you wish you had been born as a man?' and James eventually says, 'Yes'. To which her friend replies, 'But then you wouldn't have Billy.' And James says, with a note of sadness that seems to reverberate, 'No'.
★★★½ review by Nick Vass on Letterboxd
Narrative patchiness is bound to exist in a concept where Australian director Sophie Hyde filmed only on Tuesdays, used non-actors, and did this throughout the year in sequential order. However; to solely focus on that would be a disservice to her other accomplishments. Two threads are tied up by the intriguing question: what is an authentic life? The first is a gender transition of Jane to James and how he chooses to cope with his surroundings. These include his 16-year-old daughter Billie (who's own thread is formed by joining a close-knit high school threesome of identity and sexuality on-camera) while James must also be affected by Billie's transformation and deal with other trans-issues such as heath problems by testosterone.
Hyde flips, switches and overlaps these methods in a rhythm which appears occasionally clumsy; but there's enough boldness, confidence and sincerity here to make me reconsider all of that. Tilda Cobham-Hervey is stunningly adept as the transformative teenager and Del Herbert-Jane has a human truthfulness which kept me engaged. Their relationship was conflicting enough for a solid emotional arc. Only the unfortunate inclusion of Mario Späte serves little to the central storylines and I also felt that some early on-camera confessionals were amateur-hour senior drama class stuff. Overall, it's impressive. The viewer is elected to find their own way into this film and accept either poignancy or fitfulness. I'll certainly go with the former. A challenging work and worthy of Sundance and Berlinale's praise, too.
★★★½ review by feedingbrett on Letterboxd
A lot can happen in a year, and Sophie Hyde’s film intelligently remarks the difference from an adult and child’s perspective. In our youths we find that time seems to go much slower, that there is simply so much running through them that their minds are rarely idle, it may not manifest from a physical outlook, but inside they seem tortured with angsts that may seem little to us who have progressed from this stage of our lives, but to them almost everything hangs in the balance. To be more specific, a lot can happen in a week, and all it takes is a single event or decision that would tumble the dominoes and shape your life differently.
52 Tuesdays may revolve around the premise of a mother deciding to lead a new path, entering into alternative methods or treatments that would promote her transition from a woman to a man, but the film is far more than that as its focus instead lies on the daughter, who is in a place in her teen years where, much like her mother before, is seeking of her identity, experimenting with new experiences that would potentially piece together her place in the world. Although it seems all too ambitious, it actually feels rather small and genuine, a confused state that rings true to the state of a true-to-life teenager who is driven to undertake such experiences but finds it difficult to be aware of the contributing influences that lead her; only through reflection does she build a greater understanding of herself and of those around her.
The film doesn’t dwell itself in nudging on a larger message in the topic of gender transformation and its aftermath, but it does resonate to its audience through an emotional tunnel that is palpable and empathetic. It manages to condense its journey in a matter of 52 weeks and through such I was amazed on how life simply passes us by and yet so many things happen, despite our inability to perceive it. The film remained faithful to its title and shot the film only on Tuesdays for 52 weeks, and it highlights the ability to perceive change only from a distant and collective point of view; as I sat through the film and each scene was passing me by, much like the two protagonist, to perceive the changes that happen to us from week to week is minimal, but by the time it reaches its final shot, it was shocking to reveal that though reflection of the entire experience that I barely recognise the characters as they previously were, a growth that was both physical and subtle, a captured quality of life that much of cinema briskly bypass for the sake of progressing its narrative.
It may have its pacing flaws, and certain themes or emotions could have been given a bit more emphasis, but it ultimately holds up on its own, one that would surely penetrate those who have endured similar experiences. It is a film that manages to be domestic and grounded without losing any sense of complexity; an effort by Hyde that would surely open further opportunities for her.
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