Hero’s guide to trans­for­ma­tion

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

HAS there ever been an Aus­tralian film — or any film — quite like Tues­days? This is the fea­ture de­but of Ade­laide-based doc­u­men­tary­maker Sophie Hyde, and ev­ery­thing about it, from the bold­ness of its sub­ject­mat­ter, the per­for­mances of its non­pro­fes­sional cast to the depth and in­ti­macy of its emo­tional uni­verse, is ex­tra­or­di­nary. How it was made is no less re­mark­able than the film it­self. Selected pages from Matthew Cor­mack’s screen­play were de­liv­ered to the ac­tors a week be­fore each seg­ment was shot. Shoot­ing took place on con­sec­u­tive Tues­days over a full year. Frag­ments, se­quences, from ev­ery one of those days can be seen in the fin­ished film. The re­sult, well-re­ceived by over­seas crit­ics, won awards at this year’s Sun­dance and Berlin film fes­ti­vals. So is 52 Tues­days noth­ing less than a wholly com­pelling and en­gross­ing cin­e­matic ex­pe­ri­ence? Well, yes, I sup­pose so.

It is un­usual for a film’s pro­duc­ers to of­fer ad­vice to re­view­ers on the use of per­sonal pro­nouns. Our gram­mar may oc­ca­sion­ally fall short of the high­est stan­dards, but gen­er­ally we know the dif­fer­ence be­tween he and she. So I was some­what taken aback to dis­cover in my press-kit the fol­low­ing mes­sage from Del Her­bert-Jane, one of the stars of 52 Tues­days, which I quote in good faith: “It is re­quested that me­dia use Del’s name in the first in­stance, other­wise the pro­nouns ‘they’, ‘ them’, ‘their.’ When re­fer­ring to the char­ac­ter of James, it’s fine to say ‘Bil­lie’s mother’, but please use ‘he’, ‘him’, ‘his’ as pro­nouns.” I’ll try to re­mem­ber. A doc­u­ment with fur­ther ad­vice on gen­der-neu­tral pro­nouns and trans­gen­der terms was avail­able for down­load­ing, but so far I haven’t con­sulted it.

As you will have gath­ered, 52 Tues­days is a film about gen­der tran­si­tion — what we used to call a sex-change. It’s told from the point of Bil­lie (Tilda Cob­ham-Her­vey), a 16-year-old girl who learns that her mother plans to change her sex (sorry, his sex) over the course of a year. For Bil­lie this proves a deeply un­set­tling ex­pe­ri­ence. For much of the film she con­fronts the cam­era in close-up to pour out her feel­ings. Her tone, at first pug­na­cious and surly, grad­u­ally softens, and her out­pour­ings are heart­felt and mov­ing. But too of­ten they slow down the ac­tion — or what lit­tle ac­tion there is. It’s al­ways a good rule in fic­tion that char­ac­ters should show us how they feel, rather than tell us. It makes for dra­matic clar­ity and sharper char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion, with fewer op­por­tu­ni­ties for preach­ing.

James’s gen­der tran­si­tion will re­quire hor­mone in­jec­tions and surgery. And while her tran­si­tion (sorry, his tran­si­tion) is in progress, Bil­lie will see her mother once a week. Tues­days will be their one day for each other. The rest of the week she will spend with her fa­ther Tom (Beau Travis Wil­liams), who takes a rather jaun­diced view of the whole busi­ness, as most hus­bands prob­a­bly would. Not the least of Bil­lie’s prob­lems is whether to ad­dress James as “dad”. She re­peats the word over and over — “Dad, dad, dad, dad” — but some­how it doesn’t sound right. She won­ders about her own sex­u­al­ity, adorns her pretty face with toy beards and mous­taches, and puz­zles over the rub­ber pe­nis that ar­rives one day for James in the mail. Sly touches of hu­mour tem­per the solem­nity.

A story told in snip­pets in­evitably feels dis­jointed, de­spite the best ef­forts of Hyde and her cin­e­matog­ra­pher Brian Ma­son (who also edited the film) to get ev­ery­thing flow­ing smoothly. Noth­ing quite works out as planned. Wait­ing for signs of in­creased mus­cle mass and coarsening hair, James has a bad re­ac­tion to his testos­terone in­jec­tions, and has to aban­don them. But his out­ward tran­si­tion from wom­an­li­ness to blok­i­ness is nicely done (he starts shav­ing, as a ti­tle in­forms us, on De­cem­ber 6). Her­bertJane’s per­for­mance is finely nu­anced and un­der­stated, but 52 Tues­days isn’t re­ally James’s story. It’s about Bil­lie’s progress to en­light­en­ment, tol­er­ance and un­der­stand­ing — and the au­di­ence is in­vited to share it. As Bil­lie puts it, none too subtly: “If you can’t live with yourself, you shouldn’t be here.”

Hyde has given us an hon­est film about people con­fronting their true selves. Twenty years ago we would have called it quirky — quirk­i­ness be­ing the vogue with Aus­tralian film­mak­ers in the 1990s, when The Ad­ven­tures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert broke new ground in the por­trayal of gen­der stereo­types. In 2005 Hol­ly­wood gave us Transamer­ica, an odd film about a trans­sex­ual who wants to be­come a woman and goes in search of her son in prison. It was the fea­ture de­but of wri­ter­di­rec­tor Dun­can Tucker. Hyde’s fea­ture de­but is pow­er­ful and touch­ing, but I won­dered about those re­peated shots of cracking glaciers and splin­ter­ing icecaps. Is 52 Tues­days about global warm­ing as well as gen­der tol­er­ance and di­ver­sity? That would re­ally be quirky. WATCH­ING The Amaz­ing Spi­der-Man 2, which I caught up with in a crowded mul­ti­plex over the Easter weekend, it oc­curred to me that this most am­bi­tious of su­per­hero fran­chises might ac­tu­ally work bet­ter as com­edy. It may even be work­ing as com­edy al­ready. Af­ter all, it’s based on the old Marvel Comic, and comics, by def­i­ni­tion, were meant to be funny, even when the fate of the world was at stake. It’s the sec­ond Spi­der-Man film di­rected by Marc Webb and the fifth in the se­ries.

Things get off to a funny start when Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) turns up at his highs­chool grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony with mo­ments to spare, swing­ing down from on high in his Spidey suit to make a quick change of gear, don a mor­tar­board and col­lect his piece of paper from the dean. He has spent the first 15 min­utes of the movie sort­ing out some mayhem in­volv­ing a ru­n­away truck in the streets of Man­hat­tan. I re­mem­ber some­thing sim­i­lar in the last film, and it’s still very funny. There’s also some­thing ir­re­sistibly funny about Amer­i­can high-school grad­u­a­tion cer­e­monies, with their ser­ried ranks of ad­mir­ing par­ents and pompous rhetoric. Peter’s girl­friend Gwen (Emma Stone) has just de­liv­ered the “vale­tu­di­nar­ian” speech at her school, which feels as empty and plat­i­tudi­nous as the movie. I couldn’t help laugh­ing.

There’s also some­thing funny in the idea of Peter, a nerd if ever there was one, dis­guis­ing him­self as a su­per­hero. He’s be­sot­ted with Gwen, who has had enough of his er­ratic be­hav­iour and walks out on him. His new foe is Max (Jamie Foxx), who is trans­formed into an elec­tri­fied monster with the aid of a tankful of elec­tric eels — surely a comic mas­ter­stroke.

And the laughs pile up. Peter strolls across a busy street to greet his beloved while honk­ing traf­fic swerves to avoid him. That was a sta­ple in Buster Keaton come­dies about 70 years ago. An­other guy crosses a street car­ry­ing an enor­mous fish. A cop gets tan­gled in a spi­der-web. I liked the idea of Gwen win­ning a schol­ar­ship to Ox­ford while Peter pre­tends to be an Ox­ford pro­fes­sor. His chum Harry (Dane DeHaan) is the son of the founder of Os­corp, the sin­is­ter cor­po­ra­tion that spe­cialises in ge­netic ex­per­i­ments. Harry is a thorn in the side of Os­corp’s schem­ing board mem­bers, who are hatch­ing a se­cret plan for a new su­per-weapon. What sort of man­age­ment-speak can dis­guise their mo­tives if their plans are un­cov­ered? The an­swer: “Plau­si­ble de­ni­a­bil­ity.” Hi­lar­i­ous. If only Barry O’Far­rell had thought of it.

It goes with­out say­ing that Webb and his screen­writ­ers deliver on the es­sen­tials — slam­bang ac­tion, com­put­erised ef­fects and lots of shots of Spidey jump­ing through win­dows and swing­ing from one tower block to an­other. But how long can the se­ries last with­out run­ning out of steam? The next film may need some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent — a time-warp sce­nario, a zom­bie or a vam­pire in the bad guy role, a trip to outer space. Spidey could take a mighty leap and land on the moon.

That would be the last we hear of him, and a money-spin­ning Hol­ly­wood fran­chise would draw qui­etly to a close. That would re­ally be funny. Amaz­ing, in fact.

Left, Tilda Cob­ham-Her­vey in 52 Tues­days; be­low, Andrew Garfield in The Amaz­ing Spi­der-Man 2: Rise of Elec­tro

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.