Dana Eskelson in Drew Tobia's “See You Next Tuesday.” | DEVOLVER DIGITAL FILMS
The title of out gay writer and director Drew Tobia’s frustration comedy “See You Next Tuesday” is a play on a particular word that causes women to bristle. In one exchange in the film, a friendly co-worker drops the c-word in front of Mona (Eleanore Pienta) and quickly apologizes. Mona responds just as fast, “Cunt, cunt, cunt,” taking the sting out of the term.
Tobia’s film tries to take the sting out of many offensive things, not just words. We see Mona burping, spitting, vomiting, and, in a particularly humiliating moment, defecating into a plastic bag — and missing. Amidst all the vulgarity, Tobia, making his feature debut here, fails to include the laughs.
Mona is about to give birth as the film opens, but admits to not visiting a doctor or having any real plans for raising the baby. She has a low-paying job as a supermarket checkout clerk and lives in an apartment without a bathroom. Her mom May (Dana Eskelson) is a recovering drug and alcohol abuser, and her sister Jordan (Molly Plunk) is an unemployed lesbian artist who lives with her African-American girlfriend Sylve (Keisha Zollar).
Drew Tobia never makes clear if he aims to lampoon or celebrate
After Mona and her mother stop speaking over a fight, she loses her job and apartment in the same day. Mona then moves in with Jordan and Sylve, despite their wariness, especially about the coming baby. It is unclear if “See You Next Tuesday” wants to satirize or celebrate its loser characters. May seems more like a frat boy than a woman about to become a grandmother, her favorite expression being “Bite Me.”
Tobia is clearly aiming to mine such behavior for dark humor, but conflicts between his characters mostly seem like occasions for them to say nasty things to each another. The slurs are meant to be funny, but jokes need to make an impact when they land. Here, too many of the jokes involve unsympathetic characters using epithets perhaps because they are otherwise inarticulate.
When a drunk Jordan calls Sylve the N-word, it magnifies the “Mammie” and “Scarlett” roles from “Gone with the Wind” the lovers use in their foreplay. Is this really supposed to be funny? That Jordan later teases the wounded Sylve by calling her a “nnn-nincompoop” in her apology is more insulting than amusing. Sylve, in fact, is the film’s sole levelheaded character, and viewers might wonder why she remains in a relationship with the unpleasant Jordan after three years.
Not only is “See You Next Tuesday” too often aggressively unfunny, but its tone is all over the place. Tobia’s directorial style is as ramshackle as his characters’ lives and messy apartments. This may be an effort at verisimilitude — or it may simply be that the director doesn’t know where to place the camera. An early scene of Mona cutting her finger in her mother’s apartment creates chaos that may leave viewers dizzy or just heading for the exits. If the film is meant to be farce, the pacing should be zippy, not leaden.
The conceit of “See You Next Tuesday” may be that it is honest about the burdens women bear in society, but that perspective is undercut by the female characters’ unpleasantness. All the bitchy hostility is off-putting not empowering. In the central role, Pienta gives what is usually described as a “brave” performance — one where she is mostly exasperating. Molly Plunk is also irritating as Jordan, although Eskelson, as May, shows a glimmer of heart when she is not being vulgar.
SEE YOU NEXT TUESDAY | Directed by Drew Tobia | Devolver Digital Films | Opens Aug. 22 | Cinema Village, 22 E. 12th St. | cinemavillage.com