Film review: 52 TUESDAYS, from Built For Speed

The new Australian film 52 Tuesdays surprises with both its subject matter and the way in which it was constructed. The film depicts the events of each Tuesday afternoon for a year in the life of 17 year old Adelaide school girl Billy (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) and her family. Billy’s mother Jane (Del Herbert-Jane) is undergoing gender transition treatment to become a man (named James) and the film depicts the seismic cracks this situation produces in a family already fractured by Jane’s separation from Billy’s father Tom (Beau Travis Williams).  Confused about her own sexual feelings, Billy engages in and films her sexual experiments with a male and female student at her school.

A mix of narrative drama and video diary, the film is composed of 52 segments, each preceded by inter-titles that count down the Tuesdays. and shot in real time on the Tuesday referred to in the film.  Director Sophie Hyde insisted that filming had to stop on each Tuesday once the clock struck 12 midnight.  While this is an intriguing way to shoot a film, this method doesn’t greatly add to the experience of watching the film. Thankfully, this method also doesn’t detract from the film as Sophie Hyde has skilfully linked the segments so the film isn’t too disjointed.

What really matters here is the human drama and the myriad issues the film explores such as sexual identity, adolescent selfishness and people’s inability to foresee the consequences of their actions.  Refreshingly, this film is not about overt homophobia as there are no clichéd red necks abusing Jane/ James, just a tacit sense of the impact conservative social values can have on families and people outside the mainstream.

The filmmaker’s unusual methodology does, however, raises interesting questions about the way in which movies distort time frames and give us a selective view of a person’s life.  By focusing on specific days, the film presents a limited view of Billie’s life and her relationships with her parents as we mostly see her with her mother even though she only spends one day a week with her.

As Billie, Tilda Cobham-Hervey is a revelation and delivers one of the best performances in film this year.  Utterly believable and engrossing, the elfin Cobham-Hervey mixes precociousness, arrogance, sensitivity and wit in an endearing performance that recalls Carey Mulligan.  Surely a big future awaits Tilda.  She commands the screen to such an extent that those around her, particularly Herbert-Jane occasionally look a little awkward and unconvincing.   Mario Spate is also unnecessarily irritating as Billie’s drug-gobbling night-clubbing uncle.

52 Tuesdays is an important piece of Australian film as it presents, in gender transition, a world rarely explored in cinema and does so in way that is compassionate without being overly sentimental.  It is also an intriguing cinematic experiment that uses unconventional methods without becoming incoherent.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2.

Genre: Drama.

Classification: TBA.

Director(s): Sophie Hyde.

Release date: 1st May 2014

Running time: 109 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 

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