Overwhelming. You'll want to watch through your fingers.
See You Next Tuesday (SF Indiefest)
In See You Next Tuesday‘s long opening shot, we see a close-up of Mona (Eleanor Pienta) at her shitty job as a grocery store clerk, mouth hanging open due to weariness, utter boredom, or both. She stares straight into the camera, unmoving, while the opening credits scroll underneath her chin. The credits continue to crawl, the camera keeps rolling, and gradually we begin to feel uncomfortable. It’s clear weariness and utter boredom aren’t the only causes of Mona’s vacant countenance; there’s something amiss. A screw loose. This girl’s deeply disturbed, and she’s looking right at us, barely blinking.
Writer-director Drew Tobia explores inherited mental illness, and the idea that, sometimes, the only people willing and (most importantly) able to truly help broken, damaged souls…are other broken, damaged souls. Mona’s chronically distressed, and the pressures of pregnancy and everyday burdens like bills and annoying co-workers weigh heavier on her than most people. She doesn’t own a cell phone, she’s barely holding on to her apartment, and she’s neglected seeing a doctor about her baby, because thinking about these things makes her terribly upset. Mona’s constantly on the cusp of a mental breakdown and, as her fatal flaw, airs out her anxiety in social situations, making everyone around her feel uncomfortable. It’s alarming behavior, and she clearly needs help.
The only time Mona seems to be at ease is when she’s hanging out with her wisecracking mother May (Dana Eskelson), an endearing former addict with whom she shares a similar sense of bone-dry, expletive-fueled humor, which the film’s clever title represents well (google it if you don’t know). They watch TV together with their feet propped up on the coffee table, making each other laugh as they talk shit about May’s whiny roommate, a dreadful old lady. “I fucking hate her!” Mona vents. “I know!” May mouths, so as not to alert the lurking hag. Pienta and Eskelson have a natural rapport, and genuinely funny scenes like these provide welcome levity to a script that’s an otherwise weighty affair.
Mona begins to crumble rapidly as her problems stack sky-high, and in a brutally cruel argument, severs her relationship with May, her only friend and confidant. Mona’s sister Jordan (Molly Plunk), a bratty wannabe-artist who’s distanced herself from the family, shares her mother and sister’s mental imbalance, but internalizes her anger and lets it simmer until it erupts, unlike Mona who’s constantly lashing out in fits of tearful rage. The three women are a picture of dysfunction, but in each other they find, if nothing else, empathy and a sort of chaotic camaraderie. It’s touching, in a twisted way that may be lost on many in the midst of the shit-storm.
The film feels like a typical cringe-comedy in its first quarter, but as Mona’s condition worsens and more of her family history is revealed, “comedy” gives way to “cringe” big time. Watching these three women make terrible life decisions is hard to stomach, and you’ll often want to watch the drama through your fingers. (A scene at a house party where Mona chugs whiskey in front of kids and Jordan gets into a tussle with the host is painful.) It doesn’t help that, as a moment gets more and more uncomfortable, Tobia pulls his camera in tighter, giving you the most intimate view of the car wreck possible. It’ll be unpalatable to most, but in this case it’s indicative of effective cinema.
The three main actors retain their likability throughout the film, despite their characters’ extreme behavior. Pienta in particular has a screen presence that draws you into her plight, even when she’s at her most offensive. Tobia’s script is overwhelming, but he scatters in enough humor to keep us from turning on the film completely. Moments of laughter are few and far between, but they’re key; they eased my anxiety just when I felt I was about to burst.