‘Tuesday’ Review: Julia Louis-Dreyfus Takes On Death Itself – as a Terrifying 10-Foot Macaw – in Eccentric A24 Offering (2024)

Death takes the most unexpected of forms in “Tuesday,” a sui generis debut from Croatian director Daina O. Pusić. Her strikingly original if occasionally counterintuitive film brings the central idea of Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal” into the modern era — trying to stall Death, if only for a matter of hours — anchored by a committed performance from a curiously miscast Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

According to Pusić’s singular imagination, Death isn’t a scythe-wielding skeleton, nor a winged figure in a pitch-black plague cloak. Rather, it appears as a ruddy-colored, computer-generated macaw with a rumbling Darth Vader-esque bass (performed by Arinzé Kene), his words low like glaciers calving and a syntax like Jabba the Hutt. Why a macaw? It seems that these exotic parrots are harbingers of death in some cultures (though the film doesn’t explain that). This one — an intimidating red bird that can shrink and swell at will — hears the cries of dying souls and flies to their side, waving its wing across their anguished faces, at which point they expire.

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Pusić’s solemn supernatural fable opens with a montage of such cases, each of whom confronts Death in his or her own way: One pleads to be spared; another spits in the macaw’s face. It’s not easy to make sense of these randomly selected vignettes, since “Tuesday” essentially introduces a new paradigm for Death. (It’s unlikely to stick, though some audiences may take comfort in picturing Death as Pusić presents it.) What these examples have in common is that they’re all negotiating for more time. None is quite ready to go — which is clearly Pusić’s point — whereas Tuesday reacts differently.

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The buzz-cut, wheelchair-using teen (played by Lola Petticrew, a decade older but still plausible as a 15-year-old terminal cancer patient) also attempts to delay Death, just not for selfish reasons. Tuesday is relatively comfortable with the idea that she may die, but knows that her mom, Zora (Louis-Dreyfus), isn’t ready to accept it. No parent wants to outlive their offspring, and Zora goes to extraordinary lengths to protect her daughter (to detail how would be to rob audiences of the film’s most singular surprises).

Zora is determined for Tuesday to experience all that life has to offer, selling nearly all her possessions to pay for her treatment. The extent of the sacrifices Zora has already made isn’t revealed until quite late, at which point a handful of seemingly inexplicable, ultra-quirky early scenes finally make sense — like the one where Zora barters for the best price on a trio of taxidermied rats, or another in which she claims to have stayed late at work when in fact she’d spent the day on a park bench.

Pusić easily could have crafted a more user-friendly allegory, but part of what makes the film so intriguing is the unconventional way she serves up information, creating a sense of mystery around her central premise: “Tuesday” isn’t about bargaining with Death so much as showing how a parent and child come to a shared acceptance of its inevitability. The film boldly confronts an underexamined dimension of the human experience, and Louis-Dreyfus takes to the part with all the ferocity one could hope for. But why is an American woman playing the mom in a London-set downer? And was a comedic talent the right choice for the role?

Louis-Dreyfus seems to be drawing on her Elaine persona in her first scene, when Zora eyes a stuffed ape on the taxidermist’s shelf and turns it slightly so its genitals aren’t quite so prominently on display. By the end, however, the “Seinfeld” star is tapping into depths no film has given her a chance to explore (it’s a shame really that in her big scene with Death on the beach, audiences can’t hear the conversation occurring between them). And the subject is so rich, every viewer is sure to have a profoundly different and personal response.

Many will be left scratching their heads, at least for now. I suspect the film’s weird mix of tones will make more sense 10 or 20 years hence, once Pusić has a few more credits under her belt and we can view it in the broader context of her work. I’ve seen the film multiple times, beginning with the Telluride Film Festival (where Pusić’s death-themed short “The Beast” played in 2015), in a futile attempt to reconcile its competing elements. There’s something undeniably exciting about Pusić’s vision, which confronts serious subjects with disarming irreverence. But her creative decisions are peculiar, to say the least.

Her overly cute, Searchlight-esque design choices — including Tuesday’s “Juno”-style ringer T-shirt or the nurse’s Wes Anderson-pink scrubs — suggest a “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” vibe, reinforced by a scene where Tuesday smokes pot with Death, and the pair sing along to Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day.” But Pusić can go much darker, as in a mordant cutaway to a man with no legs dragging himself across the road, his life temporarily extended while Tuesday distracts Death from his duties (which evidently extend to snuffing mice, flies and other creatures).

How does Death normally operate? Does he serve the entire world, or just the Greater London area? Pusić tries to answer some of these questions, muddling her parable in the process. “Tuesday” is more effective when it sticks to feelings, as opposed to logistical matters. Memorable as the whole macaw thing is, it puts an incredibly challenging burden on Pusić and the visual effects team: How realistic to make the parrot? Will audiences mind all the mismatched eyelines, as Petticrew emotes opposite an imaginary co-star? And does it matter if Kene’s voice is sometimes too garbled to understand?

In the end, a grim-looking man in a plague cloak might have worked better. But it probably wouldn’t have forecast nearly as promising a career.

‘Tuesday’ Review: Julia Louis-Dreyfus Takes On Death Itself – as a Terrifying 10-Foot Macaw – in Eccentric A24 Offering (2024)
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