A truly unflinching look at both identity and growing up, with a star-making turn from the young Australian actress Tilda Cobham-Hervey.
Aussie Sundance-sweeper 52 Tuesdays finally reaches UK shores this week, having taken the 2014 festival circuit by storm. Sophie Hyde’s debut feature twists the coming-of-age genre like never before, moulding its sensibilities around a Boyhood-style filmmaking approach which has been turning heads all around the globe.
Shot progressively every Tuesday over the course of a year, Hyde’s film follows 16 year-old Billie during the 12 months in which her mother is undergoing gender reassignment surgery. With their time together becoming limited, Billie and her mother set aside every Tuesday afternoon to spend as a family, but with Billie’s adolescence reaching its peak and new romantic interests emerging both at school and at home, the two soon run into trouble honouring their agreement.
It is this central relationship between Billie and her mother James that forms the very backbone of the film and to some extent, works as its strongest element. Working with a largely inexperienced cast, Hyde crafts the vital family chemistry of the piece both beautifully and effortlessly, forming a seemingly genuine bond between mother and daughter which grounds the ensuing drama in a certain sense of realism. Of course this is greatly helped along by defining performances from the film’s two leads, in particular the young Tilda Cobham-Hervey, whose sensationally likeable portrayal of the deeply confused Billie entertains as much as it enthrals.
However, as bewitching as the pair are, their moments on-screen together become rarer and rarer as the film ticks on, with Hyde splitting the narrative almost directly in half. Billie’s growing pains and sexuality worries divorce themselves almost entirely from her mother’s transition, creating something of a rift. From here, Hyde’s plotting sees a number of jarring shifts wherein the leads’ experiences don’t quite seem to overlap, almost forming two entirely films: a coming-of-age drama and a documentary on gender reassignment. Although as separate entities both sides flourish, to see them both intertwined would be exponentially more satisfying for an audience, saving them from the frustrating flip-flop arrange Hyde seems to favour.
A large part of why such a divide seems to be in place is most likely down to the film’s central gimmick: its progressive storytelling over the course of the fifty-two Tuesdays of the film’s title. At first, this forms something of an intriguing concept, executed well, but as can be expected, when the side-plots begin to kick in and one becomes more immersed within Billie and James’s worlds, the constant reminders of each Tuesday ticking by gradually shrink into the background, unnoticeable visual blips in an otherwise flowing story. Thus the film’s many plots quite frankly begin to outgrow its initial purpose, a sign of just how well the narrative evolves, but also one that sadly devolves what made the film so unique in the first place.
As such, Sophie Hyde has created an incredibly brave and unflinching film, which examines the intricacies of personal identity beautifully, but one which also feels overstuffed with experimental reasoning. This is not to belittle her near-perfect grasp of the coming-of-age genre however, or how expertly tuned the family relationships of the piece are; the issues brought on by the film’s framing device are barely noticeable when its central drama shines so brightly. Ultimately, 52 Tuesdays is an incredible achievement in a number of areas for all involved – particularly the young Cobham-Hervey and Hyde herself: two names which will likely go on to even greater things. Watch this space.
52 Tuesdays (2013), directed by Sophie Hyde, is distributed in the UK by Peccadillo Pictures, Certificate 15.