Tribeca Review: ‘Nude Tuesday’ uses gibberish to tell an absurd but sweet love story
The story of a failing relationship, especially a failing marriage, can be a universal one. It’s a story so universal, in fact, that New Zealand filmmaker Armağan Ballantyne takes a big creative jump with her film, Nude Tuesday by telling it in a completely made-up language. With a story from Ballantyne, screenplay by lead actor Jackie Van Beek, and subtitles by Julia Davis, Nude Tuesday is a silly romp through a couple’s attempts to rekindle their marriage. What unfurls is something sweet, awkward, and overall endearing.
Laura (Van Beek) and Bruno (Damon Herriman) are going through a major slump in their relationship. Between caring for their two daughters and balancing work, the spark in the pair’s marriage seems to have fizzled out. They’re so desperate that when Bruno’s mother gives them tickets to a relationship retreat guaranteed to respark their romance, they decide to give it a shot. Secluded in the woods, and led by a charismatic and sexually forward “guru” named Bjorn (Jemaine Clement), the retreat is full of bizarre activities and hijinks ensue.
There are some great bits here and there as we watch Laura and Bruno navigate the retreat and their relationship. Take, for instance, the moment they meet up with Bjorn to have a one-on-one consultation that ends in tantric breathing exercises for Laura, but a degrading humiliation for Bruno. Van Beek and Davis clearly had fun working through the screenplay and subtitles, with the subtitles delivering some solid punchlines now and again. However, the absurdist comedy can be hit or miss, with the subtitles not exactly lining up with the performances. What I found really admirable in the end was the earnest and endearing nature of the whole movie. Over the course of Nude, we watch Laura and Bruno face hard truths, make mistakes, and take chances they wouldn’t be able to take in the real world. They also get to interact with the rest of their fellow retreat attendees — a diverse crowd of couples all dealing with their own issues in the same absurdist way. It’s a silly, and sometimes heartbreaking journey, but one that ends on a satisfying note.
At the very end of the movie comes the titular Nude Tuesday which turns out to be the best part of the movie. Without giving away the particulars, one of the elements of this last sequence — a naked hike up a mountain to an icy pool — won me over. That is to say, the treatment of nudity in this sequence is not sexual (despite the general subject matter), and in fact, gives us a nice moment that isn’t seen often in movies lately: normalizing all kinds of naked, adult bodies. It also helps that the biggest revelations of the movie happen to our main characters while in their most vulnerable state — they’ve learned how to open up to each other after all, and sex has nothing to do with it.
This and the performances of the cast, namely Van Beek, Herriman, and Clement, carry the movie through its kooky journey. Even supporting players, like Ian Zaro as Rufus, a fellow retreat attendee that Bruno spends some time with, bring their all, and Zaro, in particular, was delightful to watch. It’s hard to not care about the characters on screen when the people bringing them to life are so compelling.
Overall, Nude Tuesday is a creative leap that mostly lands. The absurdist comedy can be hit or miss, but the ingenuity of the storytelling, respectful treatment of all kinds of bodies, and talent of the actors on screen make it gel together.