Cast: Eleanore Pienta, Dana Eskelson, Molly Plunk, Keisha Zollar
Director: Drew Tobia
Running Time: 1 hour 22 minutes
by Jericho Cerrona
When Alex Ross Perry's The Color Wheel came out in 2012, it seemed to signal the beginning of a new kind of independent film; an amalgamation of mumblecore, jet-black comedy, and transgressive uncomfortableness. Unlike fellow indie titans Joe Swanberg and Mark Duplass, who have been toiling in the underground for years before breaking into more mainstream quarters, Perry took the whole DIY aesthetic of indie filmmaking to new levels of abrasive brilliance, redefining the limits of the whole Brooklyn-set, hipster-approved milieu. This year, Nathan Silver's extraordinary mosaic of cluttered New York life Soft in the Head further enhanced what Perry started, and now writer-director Drew Tobia brings us See You Next Tuesday, which lands with further proof that this new movement is firing on all cylinders.
Like those aforementioned pictures, See You Next Tuesday is purposefully off-putting, but Tobia clearly loves his damaged characters and never allows things to become smug or mean-spirited. The film follows Mona (Eleanore Pienta), a pregnant, socially maladjusted 20-something working at a dingy supermarket and living in a scuzzy one-room apartment. Her mother (Dana Eskelson) is a recovering alcoholic with a strained relationship with both of her daughters, which also includes Jordan (Molly Plunk), a pink-haired dynamo living off her girlfriend (Keisha Zollar). Though Mona is in the final stages of her pregnancy, with the father nowhere to be found, she goes about her days without any idea what to do once the child is born. Living in squalor, without any friends aside from one of her well-meaning coworkers, Mona seems to be in a state of constant unravel. Tobia's comically black satire never exactly delineates what's wrong with Mona, aside from her poverty-level living conditions and a mother plagued by substance abuse problems during her formative years, but the brilliance here is that it doesn't really matter. Pienta's performance; loud, bold, alienating, and achingly vulnerable, will undoubtably polarize viewers, but Tobia pulls off that rare trick of presenting an unlikeable lead character within a context that makes sense and actually invites a level of empathy.
There's a level of psychological horror at work throughout See You Next Tuesday, which favors nervous closeups, intricate editing, and chaotic shouting matches between frazzled people living on the fringes. The film is fraught with both the instability of a protagonist who feels trapped inside her own body as well as the hovering sight of gentrification that plagues Brooklyn like a crippling illness. This astute social commentary, which really takes off during a late extended sequence set at a middle class party, is both hilarious and troubling, which is a perfect distillation of Tobia's film overall. Scenes often play out with a squirming level of discomfort that both distances us from the characters as well as draws us deeper into their tailspin. Once Mona has a falling out with her mother in a truly hard to watch scene, she takes to latching onto her sister, herself not the most level-headed individual; a young woman prone to sexual role-playing with her girlfriend that's at times shockingly racist as well as playfully funny. What follows is a loose narrative that tracks Mona's connection to both mother and sister, as well as her deteriorating mental state as the pregnancy reaches its fever pitch.
For a film supplying acidic banter and darkly comedic undertones, the most disarming thing about See You Next Tuesday is just how emotionally wrenching it can be. More than anything, it feels like a bold response to Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha, a film about a struggling young 20-something played by the lovely Greta Gerwig. Baumbach's picture showcased a character floating around Brooklyn complaining about being poor, whereas Tobia shows us real gutter economic conditions and a protagonist whose near psychotic behavior seems like the only rational response to her predicament. Toxic, dysfunctional, and abrasive, sure; but See You Next Tuesday is also visceral, emotionally affecting, and profanely funny, a genuine find within the emerging indie sub-genre of the "squirming discomfort comedy."