Death becomes her

Dying is for the birds in ‘Tuesday’

Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars in Tuesday, the latest from writer-director Daina Oniunas-Pusić. Courtesy: A24

The specter of death hangs over everyone and everything. In the movie Tuesday by writer-director Daina Oniunas-Pusić, that specter takes the form of a size-shifting parrot — a filthy, scarred one with a deep and terrifying voice supplied by Arinzé Kene. How old the bird is and from whence it came is of no significance to this story, only that the parrot can take any size it wants, from a teardrop to a full-grown human, hear all the voices of the world crying out for release and silence their suffering with a wave of its wing. The parrot moves invisibly among the living. But for the dying, it is the last thing they see.

It must be quite a shock to see a large parrot approaching out of nowhere, but I imagine anyone drawing their last breath experiences all kinds of shocks. Tuesday (Lola Petticrew), a teenager with a terminal case, handles the shock better than most. So when the parrot shows up, she pulls a Scheherazade and delays the inevitable by telling the parrot a joke.

The joke works, and the parrot and Tuesday develop a bond. Tuesday knows the parrot’s arrival means the end for her, and she’s ready to go. But if only the parrot could grant her this one wish and wait long enough for Tuesday to tell her mother, Zora (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), goodbye. The parrot abides, and a conflict neither Tuesday nor Zora can foresee sends the world around them into chaos.

Tuesday is a somber story with a couple of jokes that are pretty funny if you remember to laugh. It would be easy to call this movie a downer, considering all the talk of death and dying and mourning going on, but there’s a bonkers energy coursing through Tuesday’s veins that keeps it afloat. Louis-Dreyfus gives an unglamorous performance full of abrupt but understandable turns, including a few scenes where the manic energy of Elaine Benes pushes through. It’s a performance so good you revise your opinion halfway through once it’s clear the detached monotony of earlier scenes wasn’t an actor going through the motions but the carefully calibrated choices of a performance so natural you almost missed it.

Naturalism isn’t what you might expect in a story where one of the players is a talking CGI parrot, but here we are. Oniunas-Pusić makes the right decision not to hide or shoot around the parrot but instead to look right at it and frame it in a way that takes viewers past the uncanny and into the realm of fable. It’s not supposed to look like a real parrot, anyway. And how real it is in the first place is a decision each viewer gets to make.

Aside from Louis-Dryefus and Petticrew’s wonderful performances, Tuesday’s strength comes from Oniunas-Pusić’s script. On the one hand, the premise is so beautifully simple that you feel it could fly off in any direction at any moment, and it often does. On the other hand, its overarching idea is so academically sophomoric — without death, the world would be thrown into chaos — that you run with it without bothering to question it. Why does Zora do what she does? Wouldn’t any mother do anything to be with her daughter just one more day? Even just one more moment?

Tuesday has fun with that idea, even if watching the movie doesn’t exactly make for a fun time. It’s a small story where the door is open just enough to glimpse a much bigger picture and a proper realization: The end has no end. How many books, movies, paintings, poems, songs, etc., have you read, seen or heard with this same message? Ditto. And now Oniunas-Pusić has thrown in her two cents as well — and in a feature debut, no less. It’s sure to echo. 

ON SCREEN:Tuesday opens in theaters June 15.


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