In my interview with 52 Tuesdays director Sophie Hyde, she described her first feature length drama as “a very flawed film.” I don’t disagree. But this is a film whose flaws aren’t failings; rather evidence of an exciting, refreshingly different movie. Flaws are to be expected with such an unconventional approach to filming: per the title, 52 Tuesdays was filmed over 52 consecutive Tuesdays in a year – and only on a Tuesday – producing a film that seems to be finding itself as it unfolds, with the requisite hiccups along the way.
The story focuses on James (Del Herbert-Jane) and his teenage daughter Billie (Tilda Cobham-Hervey). As James transitions to a man over the course of a year, he asks Billie to live with her father, setting aside – you guessed it – Tuesdays to spend time together. Together they provide two perspectives on the film’s key theme of identity: James struggling to become the person he knows he’s always been, Billie finding her own identity through sexual experimentation.
The identity of 52 Tuesdays lies somewhere between James and Billie; it opens with a confidence suggesting it knows exactly where it’s going before travelling a more meandering, less predictable route. The narrative initially presents itself as a straightforward mother-and-child-bonding story before wandering into less familiar waters: James’ transition proves more complicated than expected when he has an adverse reaction to testosterone while the sexually-charged videos Billie films with teenagers Josh (Sam Althuizen) and Jasmine (Imogen Archer) prove to have complicated consequences.
The lack of predictability, the freshness of 52 Tuesdays forgives its many flaws. The story is surprising, not through any shocking twists or third act revelations, but simply through its unostentatious unconventionality. You can see how the film changes form, as actors grow in confidence and their characters accordingly play a larger part in the narrative. It’s worth mentioning the flaws. The occasional sub-par performance (thinking Beau Travis Williams as Billie’s dad specifically), clumsy editing, or characters who feel superfluous in the narrative. Harry (Mario Späte), James’s brother plays an important role in the narrative but is rarely granted a sense of interiority (I’m not clear if this issue originates in the writing, editing or Späte’s performance).
Other elements of the film might be regarded as flaws; tallied up in the “bad” column in the cinematic arithmetic that critics apply to determine a film’s star rating (or arbitrary number out of two hundred, I suppose). Specifically, the stark difference between the representations of the film’s two protagonists, and the way their plotlines diverge rather than converge might seem like a failing. Instead, I found the contrast between low-key authenticity of James’s experience and the externalised, exaggerated experimentation that defines Billie’s arc to be the most compelling element of 52 Tuesdays. The difference between the two cuts to the heart of the film – the mutability of one’s identity, and the difficulty of establishing and maintaining it.
In their own ways, James and Billie experience stories that are universal. We may not be a middle-aged mother struggling with the difficulties of becoming a man and remaining a mother – whatever those words even mean – but we can all relate to the challenges of being who we are compared to who we’re expectedto be. We may not have experimented with threesomes in abandoned clubs in our youth and filmed the results, but we can relate to the messiness of teenage sexuality. The experience Billie goes through is vital and violent – not physically violent, but the violence that comes with creating a new person through destroying who you once were.
At one point in 52 Tuesdays, Billie is told that “a year is a long time. Especially at your age.” 52 Tuesdays is proof of that. A year is a long time to establish or discover one’s identity; as a teenage girl, a mother or as a film. There’s something miraculous about watching 52 Tuesdays grow before us over that year; this is a film everyone should experience.