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52 Tuesdays - Film Review

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by Richard Leathem (subscribe)
Freelance writer. Melbourne based cinephile. Fond of food.
Published April 26th 2014
One day a week, every week for a year
Director: Sophie Hyde
Cast: Tilda Cobham-Hervey; Del Herbert-Jane; Mario Spate, Imogen Archer, Sam Althuizen

Transgenderism is brought to the big screen with honesty and integrity in 52 Tuesdays, the story of a 16-year old girl watching her mother make the transition from a woman to a man. It's an assured and accomplished fiction feature debut by Australian director Sophie Hyde.

52 tuesdays sophie hyde
Mother and daughter James (Del Herbert-Jane) and Billie (Tilda Cobham-Hervey)

The 52 Tuesdays of the title refer to the allotted time each week that high school student Billie and mother Jane spend together. At film's beginning, Jane, who has long separated from husband Tom, tells Billie of her plans to change gender and requests that Billie live full-time with Tom. Up to this point Billie had always known and accepted that her mother was a lesbian. Her initial reaction to Jane taking steps to become James is merely one of personal resentment at having to leave home for the randomly assigned period of a year.

Before long Billie's weekly visits back home take on immense importance. She treasures the hours listening to her mother candidly talking about her testosterone treatment, chest operation and various other details about the transition.

On the surface it looks like everyone is being very adult and honest with each other, but there are secrets being withheld by everyone. James has a regular girlfriend that he hasn't found a way of telling Billie about yet, and Billie has struck up a friendship with Josh and Jasmine, a canoodling couple a year ahead of her at school. It's a friendship which has taken on a strange voyeuristic tone, with Billie coaxing the pair to be filmed making frank confessions of their sexual activities. Gradually she insinuates herself into their relationship.

52 tuesdays sophie hyde
Schoolmates Josh (Sam Althuizen) and Billie get intimate.

At first the film has a staccato feel to it, Billie films herself to give us intermittent internal dialogue, we get some grabs of Josh and Jasmine recreating an intimate moment, the chapter titles for each week pop up regularly and are accompanied by brief clips of topical news of the day (filming took place weekly, on every Tuesday in 2012). Some of the weekly vignettes with mother and daughter are almost as brief as the chapter titles, and the escapades between the three teenagers seem a strange diversion from the story. After a while though, the format takes shape, the time between the two main characters becomes more meaningful and the reasons for Billie's experimentation with her schoolmates become evident.

Director Hyde has a background in documentaries, and it shows in the best possible way. The odyssey that Jane/James embarks upon comes across as authentic, and his filmed diary is interspersed with real life footage of transgender people talking about their experiences.

The idea to observe his story from the perspective of someone close to him is a smart one. Billie is at once someone we can relate to, yet we have the added layer of observing her insecurities and the increasing questioning of her own sexual identity.

52 tuesdays sophie hyde
James and Billie share an intense moment

The film is populated with people of various sexual orientation, from the transgendered mother, to gay uncle Harry and the bi-curious teenagers, yet it never feels schematic in its representation of the characters. The performances are natural across the board, with Tilda Cobham-Hervey carrying the weight of the film remarkably well and drawing comparisons to the wonderful Mia Wasikowska. Non-gender conforming Del Herbert-Jane is also entirely convincing as her transitioning mother.

52 Tuesdays is a film that educates and entertains, not an easy thing to do. It manages to provide social commentary without ever being didactic. It will likely be a career maker for emerging director Sophie Hyde and for much of its young and talented cast.

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Why? Sundance award winner from Australia
Where: At selected cinemas
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