52 Tuesdays – Sophie Hyde and a fresh take on coming of age. (Film Review)
The very criterion by
which we judge a person to be a gendered being, a criterion that posits
coherent gender as a presupposition of humanness, is not only one
which, justly or unjustly, governs the recognizability of the human, but
one that informs the ways we do or do not recognize ourselves at the
level of feeling, desire, and the body, at the moments before the mirror,
in the moments before the window, in the times that one turns to
psychologists, to psychiatrists, to medical and legal professionals to
negotiate what may well feel like the unrecognizability of one’s gender
and, hence, the unrecognizability of one’s personhood.
Judith Butler (Undoing Gender)
The strength of 52 Tuesdays lies not in its documented revelations of a woman named Jane undergoing a transition over a 12 month period to be recognised as the man James, nor in the carefully examined complications of Billie and her coming of age story, but in the profound respect and dignity afforded the question of gender, the nuanced and detailed research and the delicacy and lightness of touch afforded subject matter that probes each one of us so deeply. The question of “gender assignment” is one that affects us all, because we engage in it habitually, thoughtlessly, on a continual basis. When you glance at any person and even most animals, your first response is without question to assign gender. Your decision about this will then determine how you communicate, how you judge, what you expect.
52 Tuesdays is a much-needed addition to the coming of age story, that turns the tables on the traditional idea of teen transformation, to look at transitioning that occurs between a mother and a daughter through the course of one year. Director Sophie Hyde filmed consecutively, the actors and crew met on Tuesdays to film, Matthew Cormack’s script is written over the course of the year, usually each “Tuesday” is completed a couple of Tuesdays ahead of schedule, yet within an overall narrative framework. The film opens with Billie, (a 16 year old Tilda Cobham-Hervey) who is informed by her mother, Jane (Del Herbert-Jane) that she is to go and live with her dad, Beau Travis Williams for a year, because over the next twelve months Jane will be in transition from being identified as Jane to being identified as James. Billie and Jane decide to meet every Tuesday from four in the afternoon (after school) till ten at night to stay connected and to talk about the transitional process – if they feel like it. As Jane is working through her transition, Billie experiences one of her own in the company of two older students, Jasmine, (Imogen Archer) and Josh, (Sam Althuizen) with whom she begins to explore her own sexuality and ideas of how that is manifest in her life. As Jane experiences complications, Billie experiences her mothers transition as a rejection of motherhood, and acts out in her own ways.
Part of what makes 52 Tuesdays so fascinating is the use of film itself. As James transitions, he films himself weekly then shows this to Billie so that they can communicate about the changes occurring. But Billie is changing too, and she too decides to film herself experimenting sexually with her friends, clinging to the films she makes as a solid way of grounding her experience – and connecting with James. However, a sixteen year old filming herself and her friends having sex is not the same as the documented body image transformation James is experiencing. and trouble arises when Billie is confused by her families relationship to appearances. When her tapes are found by all concerned adults, they keep saying “what if this got out?” “What would people think?” and Billie responds with “How is this any different from the films you make?” Billie needs to learn societies judgments can be severe and can ruin people’s lives, something she has only seen fought through the courage of her trans parent. Therefore, each Tuesday, we see the film being made, James’ transition images and Billie’s transition images, until the filming of change becomes its own form of oppression.
Outside of its unusual subject matter, 52 Tuesdays is a beautifully made film, with the difficulties of relating to the people we love coupled with our acceptance of who they are within themselves as they express themselves openly. The actors are nonprofessionals with Tilda Cobham-Hervey putting in a wonderful performance as Billie and Del Herbert-Jane superb as James. Del began working on the film as a gender diversity consultant and eventually was invited to work as an actor on the film. Del identifies as a non gender conforming individual who believes that a binary male / female system is outmoded, and they’re commitment to the flawless articulation of this position informs the entire film and makes it a repeat watching experience. Unlike so many films made these days, when you watch 52 Tuesdays, you are immersed in an experience of integrity that gives appropriate informed respect to its subject treatment and uses language in an engaged and open way. 52 Tuesdays is a wonderful film, definitely one as many people as possible should see and one that contributes in a very main stream approachable way the enormously important subject matter it treats.