Wednesday, 23 July 2014

NZIFF Review - 52 Tuesdays and Life After Beth

NZIFF Review - 52 Tuesdays and Life After Beth

A central conceit of shooting over every Tuesday for a year forms the spine of Aussie director Sophie Hyde's drama 52 Tuesdays.

Set in Adelaide it follows the life of teen Beth (Tilda Cobham-Hervey in an alarmingly assured performance) as she comes to terms with her mother's decision to transition genders. Dispatched to live with her father, Tuesdays becomes the only day which Billie spends with her mother - for better or for worse.

As her mother transitions from Jane to James (in a sensitively and nuanced turn by Del Herbert-Jane), Billie traverses her own sexual awakening as she begins to hang out with a pair of school friends, Josh and Jas. Filming their liaisons as the same time as her mother films her own journey, the two veer dangerously close to each other and simultaneously become distanced.

Hyde's framing device of shooting over a year and only for one day feels terrifically natural; some Tuesdays last seconds, a blur of mediocrity and mundanity that showcase the ups and downs of life; others, for dramatic purposes, last longer. Ultimately, the idea proves fertile ground for a drama that's thoughtful, skillfully and yet carefully handled and one which feels naturalistic and deftly coming of age than anything which has gone before.

While the final set of Tuesdays perhaps inevitably rise to form a dramatic crescendo that feels a little out of leftfield, the majority of 52 Tuesdays gives plenty of food for thought about identity and how grow closer yet further apart to our siblings as life goes on. With two terrific lead performances (I wouldn't be surprised if Cobham-Hervey's star is about to go into serious overdrive) 52 Tuesdays is a dramatic revelation wrapped within a genuinely natural premise.

Life After Beth posits the question - what would you do if your dead girlfriend were to come back to life for no rhyme or reason?

It's a tricky task facing Dane DeHaan's Zach, who finds out after farewelling Beth (Parks and Rec star Aubrey Plaza) that she's somehow crawled out of her grave and headed back home. Initially elated at the second chance he's been given, Zach neurotically worries that she's returned as a zombie and nervously spends a lot of the film asking her if she won't eat him.

But as time passes and despite her parents' desire to keep her home, Zach's world begins to fall apart as the dead start coming back - and it's all connected to Beth... as well as Zach's broken promise.

Offbeat and comedically quirky, Life After Beth riffs on the old guy gets girl/ guy loses girl/ guy gets girl back and throws in a series of emotionally rich moments and recongisable conundrums. Rejecting some of Beth's ideas in life (such as her obsession with hiking which ultimately proved her demise), Zach decides to embrace these as a second chance comes around - however, his instincts prove right as he starts to fear Beth's true nature is lurking. The romantic elements are mashed deeply into this piece, which weirdly doesn't feel like a zombie movie at all and is more a commentary on dealing with grief, keeping promises and how the world can end when you're young and in a relationship.

A terrific cast - from John C Reilly as Beth's dad, Molly Shannon as Beth's mom, Paul Reiser as Zach's dad and a livewire Matthew Gray Gubler from Criminal Minds as a real prick of a brother to Zach and jumpy security guard - prove the perfect icing on this cake.

But it's DeHaan and Plaza's film through and through. An edgy yet relatable DeHaan manages to combine melancholy catatonia with grief to maximum effect; and Plaza gives her Beth the zombie tropes of shuffling and growling as the rot sets in but not before imbuing her character with the naive all American sweetness that shows how this duo could have been in love.

A final sequence masterfully mixes the chaotic with the considerate, fusing together such aching loss before sending one of them on their merry and bloody way - never forgetting the laughs are needed, Life After Beth delivers something a little different for the genre, making it feel fresher than the rotting cadavers other zombie flicks have delivered down through the years.

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