Film, Film Review

REVIEW: Tuesday (2023) dir. Daina O. Pusić

Danse Macaw-bre


I have several friends in the film-crit community who refuse to watch trailers on general principle: they opt out of the inevitable cycles of discourse which surround each online drop, and even step out of the theater during the previews of coming attractions. I understand this perspective, and even admire it– it’s a great way to maintain one’s purity while writing a review– but I don’t personally share it. For one thing, as a writer, and particularly as an editor, a trailer serves as a handy elevator pitch to determine whether a film is worth spending my time and mental energy upon (to that end: if any independent filmmakers are reading this, I implore you to take the time to craft a bitchin’ trailer for your opus. I promise you it’s worth it). I also enjoy trailers as a bite-sized burst of cinematic serotonin in their own right; the teaser for Kinds of Kindness is already in itself a candidate for my best-of-the-year list, and some of my fondest moviegoing memories are of the Brattle’s annual Trailer Treats festival. To me, trailers are more than a necessary evil– they’re a delightful appetizer before the main course.

Every once in a while, of course, I will get burned. Usually, it’s a case of a subpar film being oversold by a canny marketing team: take the glorious first trailer for Suicide Squad, completed long before the movie itself (if one can truly consider Suicide Squad “complete”). Every once in a while, however, the opposite will occur. Consider, if you will, Daina O. Pusić’s directorial debut Tuesday, which opens this weekend at the Coolidge. The trailer, which I saw in the wild a few days prior to the actual press screening, goes so heavy on the schmaltz that you almost don’t notice the malevolent, talking, size-shifting macaw; the focus is squarely on Julia Louis-Dreyfus and her tearful relationship with her terminally ill daughter. The whole thing smacked of a strain of cloyingly manipulative sentiment to which I am largely allergic, and I found myself dreading the experience of sitting through the film.

Thankfully, truth is not always found in advertising. Tuesday is a tearjerker, to be sure, but it’s a far stranger and more interesting film than it’s being sold as. I can’t say I loved it, but I didn’t hate it as much as I was prepared to, and sometimes that’s half the battle.

Perhaps you noticed a few words a couple paragraphs back which tipped you off that Tuesday might not be your standard Lifetime movie. Tuesday opens almost like a horror movie, with a series of unfortunate souls being advanced upon by a filthy, leering bird, who shepherds them off this mortal coil with a wave of his ratty wing. Eventually, we land on teenage Tuesday (Lola Petticrew), a wheelchair-bound teen suffering from an unnamed but clearly fatal illness; her mother, Zora (Louis-Dreyfus) claims to be a busy career woman, but mostly just leaves the house to get away from her own crushing reality. It’s clear where this is going: within minutes of our introduction, Tuesday is confronted with the death-parrot.

Tuesday does something none of the others do, however: she befriends Death, telling him jokes, giving him a bath, and even playing him some of her favorite songs (it turns out Death is partial to “Good Day” by Ice Cube). The bird, for his part, is genuinely grateful for these acts of kindness (“You made my head silent,” he croaks), and returns the favor by allowing Tuesday a temporary stay so she can say goodbye to her mother after her day at “work.” Zora, perhaps understandably, does not react well, particularly when she sees the bird promising to end her daughter’s life, and in a fit of motherly rage (the details of which I won’t spoil here) she stops Death from taking her daughter– or anyone else.

This is the point at which Tuesday truly surprised me, as it expands its scope beyond its mother-daughter duo and opts to meditate on the nature of death itself. Death is, of course, a necessity of life, and the scenes which follow Zora’s decision to detain Death are played for gallows humor: mortally wounded people stagger around like zombies, headless birds bash continuously into windows, the skies darken with clouds of flies who have outlasted their 24-hour lifespan. Then, when Zora realizes the error of her ways and attempts to make things right, the whole thing begins to play like a perverse parody of a holiday special (I found myself reminded of the great song title from Mott the Hoople: “Death May Be Your Santa Claus”).

I should be clear, though, that Tuesday is not a “disaster movie” in any real sense of the word. All of what I have just described is largely consigned to the background, which provides the film with both its strongest joke and its greatest weakness. For much of the second act, we’re only really reminded of the chaos outside by the constant din of sirens and screams, and, like the characters, we eventually tune them out. This blackly comic streak is something the trailer did absolutely nothing to prepare me for, and I was shocked and delighted by how far Pusić took the film’s conceit. This is a film with ideas about death which go far beyond its central characters, and it’s strangely enthralling watching it articulate them.

But, of course, all of these ideas are fundamentally in service of the relationship between the film’s two characters, and that’s where it kind of loses me. Tuesday is so plain in its tearjerker machinations that I never quite found myself fully drawn in. Petticrew is excellent in a supremely challenging and wordy role (I will be shocked if they don’t emerge as a significant star in the years to come), but Tuesday’s death is so preordained that the film often feels like an exercise. Likewise, Louis-Dreyfus is never not great, but the material is just so big that I found myself strangely less emotionally involved than I was by her considerably pettier concerns in You Hurt My Feelings. Then there’s the film itself, which is so breathless in its desire to communicate its various theses that it comes off as more writerly than felt. The bottom line is that I just wasn’t as moved as I felt like I should be, and for a film like this that seems like a pretty fatal flaw.

Tuesday is simultaneously rescued and hamstrung by its cockeyed perspective: its strange ideas about love and death elevate it above the typical tearjerker, but lessen its impact as a tearjerker. Ultimately, I think this is a case of First Feature Syndrome: Pusić is clearly a filmmaker bursting with imagination who wants to cram everything into her debut, and will hopefully find more focus in her sophomore effort. Tuesday doesn’t quite work, but it’s too damn strange to ignore. Just be sure to take my word for it– not the trailer’s.

dir. Daina O. Pusić
111 min.

Opens Friday, 6/14 @ Coolidge Corner Theatre & Somerville Theatre

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