If you’re quirk-averse, you might be immediately put off by a cursory description of Daina Oniunas-Pusić’s debut feature, Tuesday, in which Julia Louis-Dreyfus confronts death in the form of a shape-shifting, talking macaw. But from the distressing and immersive opening scenes, it’s clear Tuesday is an unsettling and bold vision that rewards a viewer willing to sit through some flaws (and some cringe). 

In the opening sequence (reminiscent of both Enter the Void and Wings of Desire) the Macaw (voiced and performed on set by Arinze Kene) appears to a handful of poor souls on the edge of death after hearing their pleas over an oppressive din. He ends their lives with the wave of a mangey, heavy wing. The Macaw’s eyes are clouded, and he moves from a parking lot to a living room to an alley with a weary inexorability that is, frankly, frightening. Finally he’s called to Tuesday (Lola Petticrew), a 15-year-old with a terminal illness. But instead of pleading for her life, Tuesday disarms him with a joke and offers the macaw a bath. They develop a bond as Tuesday convinces Death to wait until her mother Zora (Louis-Dreyfus) comes home so she can say goodbye. 

A24 has described its latest drama as a fairy tale, and beyond the obvious parallels of magical creatures and archetypal figures (Louis-Dreyfus is somewhere between the brave maiden and the crone), Tuesday also has the form’s moral and symbolic directness, like the macaw who is ill and dirty because people shun death. This simplicity is the film’s strength, and Tuesday‘s weakest moments are when it pauses to overexplain, as in the nearly unnecessary coda where Death gives an all-too-pat definition of the afterlife, or an early scene when Tuesday lays out the implicit darkness in Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day” (it was already challenging enough to watch the giant bird rapping along with a teen girl). 

When not rapping, the Macaw is a compelling creature. We first see it cradled in a man’s tear duct, but soon he grows to 10 feet tall, towering over a woman bleeding out on the pavement. A macaw may seem like a random, quirky choice for Death, but the birds are famously attuned and sympathetic to human emotions, and their long lives (they can exceed 100) mean their owners usually have to confront their own death when making plans for the bird’s care when they’re gone. The macaw’s foreboding presence is certainly neutered by his friendship with Tuesday, but fairy tales are all about transformation, and the film soon offers an even more sinister figure in Zora. 

Dreyfus is brilliant as Zora, whose single-minded avoidance of her daughter’s situation leaves her in a constant state of keyed-up inertia. It’s in her nervy, cowardly determination that the Macaw meets its match. She’s barbed, wounded, so weighed down by grief that she has become completely self-involved: it’s an unexpected take on a character that can so easily be saccharine. But Oniunas-Pusić doesn’t give Tuesday the same kind of leeway, keeping her tethered to a cliche of the brave and wise-beyond-her-years sick kid. It’s an archetypal character that is in dire need of transformation. 

Tuesday opens on Friday, June 7.

Grade: B

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