Tuesday is a fairy tale with some very real-world consequences.
The latest A24 collaboration with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, after her superb comedy You Hurt My Feelings premiered at Sundance early in 2023, has just had its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival this weekend, and for Louis-Dreyfus admirers it just may be a revelation. The star, who has won a boatload of Emmys for comedy including a historic achievement for Lead Actress in three separate comedy series and who was also excellent in the Kenya Barris comedy You People this spring, shows she is just as talented tackling a highly emotional and unusual dramatic role.
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Tuesday also marks a stunning writing and directorial feature debut for Croatian filmmaker Daina O. Pusic, who in wanting to make a movie dealing with loss and death has turned it all into a bit of a fairy tale involving a macaw who it turns out is the face of death. When this talking bird arrives in your room, that means your time has come.
This is a very singular story of a lovely terminally ill teenage girl named Tuesday (Lola Petticrew) who is nearing the end of her life, attended by a nurse (Leah Harvey) and also dealing with a single mother, Zora (Louis-Dreyfus), who clearly cannot the accept the inevitable for her only daughter. Tuesday on the other hand apparently can, when a shape-changing talking macaw (Arinze Kene is the voice of “Death” here) has appeared suddenly in her room where the young girl is hooked up to medical equipment. This is an end-of-life visit he makes for people and all living creatures around the globe, but Tuesday is quite a feisty customer and instantly strikes up a relationship with the bird which — through the miracle of some exceptional CGI visual effects work — can instantly change its size and look, becoming either gigantic or normal sized in an instant.
Tuesday welcomes him but makes a plea to let her stay at least until she can say goodbye to her mom, who as the film begins is running around town, bargaining with gift shop owners, and doing anything but sitting with her daughter, at least until it is time for the hired nurse to leave. At this point we are wondering if this macaw is all just in the imagination of Tuesday, but it becomes clear he’s real when Zora comes into the room and is confronted with its imposing presence. Of course she is shocked and will not listen to Tuesday’s pleas to let him be, and sets out to kill it which she does — we think — in graphic fashion.
But can you really kill death? Pusic’s take on all this — the loss, the grief, the regrets, the acceptance — is all wrapped up in this adult fairy tale that has much to say about the way we live and the way we choose to die. It also becomes a wrenching mother-daughter story, a heartbreaking story of letting go, spirituality, faith, and coming to terms with yourself. Louis-Dreyfus expertly rolls through a wave of emotions and is allowed here to show a side of her talent we don’t often get to see, though her work in past movies has given us a clue. She is just superb here, and ultimately quite moving in a role that could not have been easy as it also means working with a green screen opposite a very large, ever-changing bird. Petticrew is perfectly cast and hits just the right tone here. Kene, excellent as the imposing and deep voice of Death, adds some ominous but also surprisingly light moments along the way.
Pusic, who was first in Telluride with her 2015 short The Beast, shows an assured command of her story, including balancing the tone of a unique tale about a familiar and universal subject that by the end hits us right in the heart and soul. The visual effects team led by Mike Stillwell and Andrew Simmonds has done some extraordinary work here in the creation of the macaw and its constantly shifting size and movements. Alexis Zabe’s cinematography and Anna Meredith’s score also add considerably to the success of this impressive achievement of a filmmaker who, based on this, is undoubtedly one to look out for in the coming years.
Producers are Helen Gladders, Oliver Roskill, and Ivana MacKinnon.
Festival: Telluride Film Festival
Director-screenwriter: Daina O. Pusic
Cast: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Lola Petticrew, Leah Harvey, Arinze Kene
Running time: 1 hr 51 min
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