Nude Tuesday, MA15+, 100 minutes. 3 stars
The latest relationship comedy from New Zealand is out there and experimental with some good things going for it. To start with, it has lead actors Jackie van Beek and Damon Herriman as an uptight couple who go to a new-age retreat to get their marriage sorted.
As an anxious corporate type who is lost giving a presentation without her flash cards, van Beek (The Breaker Upperers), gets her character's awkward balance right. Australian actor Herriman, who was terrifying in Judy & Punch and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, has taken time out from his ruthless, hard man roles to play a dejected, ineffectual husband struggling to restore his marriage.
Laura (van Beek) and Bruno (Herriman) are just another suburban couple trying to live their dream, working hard and doing their best by their kids, but something is wrong. They first appear sitting up in bed together in pyjamas, their laptops on their knees. He's into splatter gore, while she's preparing a presentation for the next day at work retailing glamorous nappy wear for seniors.
At their wedding anniversary dinner, they are gifted a voucher for a spell at the retreat by Bruno's mum. With a wink and a nudge, she seems to know exactly what the problem is, and is sure that once the guru there, Bjorg (Jemaine Clement), has got to work, the rumble will return to the jungle.
From Laura's thrush to Bruno's horniness, to their young daughters' inability to play Greensleeves and sing in tune, homelife is all as gloriously absurd as what they do at work. Bruno sells taps. Beyonce mixer taps anyone?
What's more, you won't understand a single word you hear. Nude Tuesday is subtitled, with the entire cast speaking in a gibberish that sounds like a Scandinavian language with the occasional New Zealand vowel thrown in. Everyone speaking gibberish may be a way of illustrating miscommunication, but it's radical.
This is more than likely the only theatrical feature ever made in gibberish. And, if that wasn't confusing enough, Nude Tuesday has gone into circulation in two different versions.
Based on a screenplay by van Beek, and directed by Armagan Ballantyne who co-wrote, it was shot entirely in gibberish, with the actors not knowing how what they said would be subtitled.
Brought into the production for her anarchic spirit, British comedian Julia Davis has subtitled the version on theatrical release in Australia. Another version, with subtitles written by the Malaysian comedian Ronny Chieng and Australian comedian Celia Pacquola, is destined for a streaming platform. Apparently, the two versions are quite different.
The fictitious language of the film was developed by a voice coach to conform to some of the phonic rules of Nordic languages, so that the characters appeared at least to be speaking the same language. Most words were improvised, some were not.
Making a substantial contribution to the general nuttiness but also for the sake of consistency, the soundtrack is laced with popular hits that are performed in gibberish as well. Road to Nowhere, Time of the Season and Islands in the Stream never got this sort of treatment.
All of the cast, with the exception of the bus driver, strip for the last 20 minutes or so of the film, when a 'nude Tuesday' takes place. Everyone, from the receptionist to Bjorg to all his followers, have to take their kit off and go on a hike above the snow line, for a rejuvenating dip in an icy pool. Shot in the magnificent mountain wilderness of New Zealand's South Island, these scenes have given the film's esteemed cinematographer, Andrew Commis, the chance to show his wares.
Isolated on a small island in the South Pacific seems to have been really good for New Zealand humour. Aotearoa has a comedic brand all of its own, with some homegrown screen comedies like Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Black Sheep, that are memorably hilarious.
In the end, after the nude trek into the mountain wilderness to get participants to confront their inner truth, what have we got? A toothy vulva book, coloured sashes and spirit stones and hands on tingly bits, and other silly stuff. After making fun of new-age thinking and practices, Nude Tuesday has its moments but doesn't really deliver on its promise.
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