Grief manifests in strange ways, but perhaps not as strange as it does in Tuesday, the directorial debut feature from Daina O. Pusic. The film stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus, ever-mutable in surprising roles these days, as Zora, a single mother grappling with the impending loss of her dying teenage daughter Tuesday (Lola Petticrew). Zora leaves Tuesday with a stream of nurses and pretends to go to work while instead laying on park benches and eating cheese. Tuesday lays in bed or sits in a wheelchair in the garden, wheezing and waiting to die. And then, one morning, Death, in the form of a parrot-like bird, shows up.
TUESDAY ★★★★ (4/4 stars)
As we quickly learn, Death, voiced by Arinzé Kene, hears the call of people dying and flies to relieve them of their worldly pain. It’s his presence, as he waves a feathered wing, that allows them to pass on to the next life, if there is a next life. But with Tuesday, something different transpires. She tells him a joke and he stays. The unlikely duo smoke pot, listen to Ice Cube and Tuesday asks Death to let her see her mom before he takes her away. Things go amiss, to put it mildly, when Zora sets Death on fire and eats him, attempting to prevent him from killing Tuesday. She’ll do anything—literally anything—to keep her daughter.
The film takes Zora and Tuesday on an unusual journey as Zora contends with her new powers as Death. The world, it seems, needs endings. Destruction and chaos await without death. Humans and animals can’t live on past their moments or immense suffering will follow. Zora has to reckon with what that means, not only for the world but for Tuesday. Pusic, who also wrote the film, allows Zora a full range of emotions and reactions, some of them truly bizarre. But who hasn’t said or done something out of character when faced with loss? Louis-Dreyfus embraces the surreal oddness of the film, but it’s Petticrew who really captivates the viewer’s heart. Her interactions with Death are the movie’s best scenes.
Tuesday, which has so far played the Telluride International Film Festival and London Film Festival prior to its 2024 release, has been billed as a fantasy drama. But for all its fantastical visuals and its elevated concept, it’s a distinctly grounded movie. It emanates with feeling. It’s clear that both Pusic and the actors, who also include Leah Harvey as one of Tuesday’s nurses, care about the characters. And because they do, the story resonates even more strongly, especially in its poignant and thoughtful ending.
Several recent films deal with grief, including Andrew Haigh’s All of Us Strangers. It’s a concept that’s deeply familiar to any moviegoer, whether it’s the loss of a parent, a child, or even a family pet. It’s fascinating to see the different ways filmmakers contend with the existence of loss and with the grief that accompanies it. Pusic offers a certain kind of catharsis by acknowledging that not only is death inevitable, but it’s necessary. It’s how we keep someone alive after they die that matters. Tuesday is a challenging watch at times, and it requires an acceptance of the strange world it inhabits, but it’s a deeply worthwhile experience.
Observer Reviews are regular assessments of new and noteworthy cinema.