Spoken only in gibberish, and unafraid to bare all, this New Zealand sex comedy starring Jackie van Beek, Jemaine Clement and Damon Herriman is revelatory several times over.
June 16, 2022
In Nude Tuesday, you can take the unhappy couple out of their daily routine — and slip them out of their clothes in the process — but escaping to a mountainside commune, ditching the dacks, palling around with a goat and gleaning relationship advice from the author a book called The Toothy Vulva just can't solve all woes. What that list of absurd plot points and experiences can do is fill out a film that's gleefully silly, often side-splittingly funny, and also just as perceptive as it is playful. The basic premise behind this New Zealand sex comedy borrows from plenty of fellow movies and TV shows about stuck-in-a-rut folks seeking bliss and renewal, plus solutions to bland marriages, with a gorgeous change of scenery. But helping make Nude Tuesday such a winner is every offbeat choice that's used to tell that tale. Getting naked is only part of it, given that not a lick of any recognisable language is spoken throughout the entire feature — although plenty of words and sounds are audibly uttered.
Nude Tuesday understands one key point, as everyone watching it will: that relationships are all about communication. The film is also well aware that so much about life is, too — and storytelling. Here, though, expressing emotions, connections and narrative details all boils down to gibberish and bodies. This amusing movie from writer/director Armağan Ballantyne (The Strength of Water) and writer/star Jackie van Beek (The Breaker Upperers) does indeed strip down its performers in its last third, living up to its name, but it saddles them with conveying almost everything about their characters via body language before that. Each piece of dialogue spoken echoes in unintelligible nonsense, using completely made-up and wholly improvised terms. Even covers of 'Road to Nowhere' and 'Islands in the Stream' do as well. And while subtitled in English by British comedian Julia Davis (Camping), that text was penned after shooting, in one of the film's other purposefully farcical twists.
The result is patently ridiculous, and marvellously so — and hilariously. It's such a clever touch, making a movie about marital disharmony and the communication breakdown baked within that's so reliant upon reading tone and posture, as couples on the prowl for the tiniest of micro-aggressions frequently hone in on. Initially, the feature needs a few scenes to settle into its unfamiliar vernacular, which takes cues from The Muppets' Swedish Chef in its cadence. Via an opening map, which situates the story on the fictional pacific island of Zǿbftąņ, Nude Tuesday's language also resembles an IKEA catalogue. But once Ballantyne, van Beek and the latter's co-stars find their groove — with a literally bloody attempt to make adult nappies sexy, a supermarket tantrum involving tossed cans and a tense anniversary dinner — everything, including the movie's chosen tongue, clicks into place.
Van Beek and Australian The Tourist actor Damon Herriman play Nude Tuesday's central pair, Laura and Bruno. In the first but not last example of just how compellingly they use their physicality, the talented lead twosome paints a picture of relatable malaise from their introductory moments together. Laura and Bruno are bogged down in a dull cycle that revolves around working at jobs neither loves — she spruiks those mature-age diapers, he sells bathroom fixtures — then trudging home exhausted and exasperated to deal with their kids, and later crumbling into bed knowing they're going to repeat it all the next day. Sex doesn't factor in, and neither is content with that, but resolving their troubles themselves is out of reach. Then, they're gifted a getaway to ẄØnÐĘULÄ to assist. But this woodland getaway, run by charismatic and lustful sex guru Bjorg Rassmussen (Jemaine Clement, I Used to Go Here), wants its new guests to expose all in multiple ways.
Unfurling among gorgeously lensed New Zealand scenery (with Australian Babyteeth and High Ground cinematographer Andrew Commis behind the camera), that starkers setup keeps proving savvy. It also keeps saying plenty beyond the silliness. Nude Tuesday isn't just absurdity for the sake of it, although it'd remain perfectly and thoroughly enjoyable — if slight — if it was simply that. Evoking laughs still comes fast and easily, of course, including getting giggling about coming too fast and too easily. Davis' witty subtitling fires off gags a minute, and the frequent preposterousness of it all — with orgies, drugs, a Twin Peaks-style love of logs and a penchant for ponchos all factoring in — is constantly entertaining. But there's as much heart and smarts throbbing within Nude Tuesday as there was in van Beek's also-great The Breaker Upperers, which similarly found a nifty balance between chuckle-inducing ridiculousness and insight.
Here, there are as many observant layers to Nude Tuesday's dance through married misery as there are clothes shed by its cast, too — a list of performers that spans everyone from Black Comedy's Ian Zaro and Down Under's Chris Bunton to Wellington Paranormal's Karen O'Leary and Shortland Street's Yvette Parsons. Accordingly, amid the sight gags, word play, slapstick, jokes about anatomy, plus the other wonderful lashings of ludicrousness, sits a canny undressing of Laura and Bruno's deep-seated struggle to get emotionally bare-assed. At the outset, they're the strait-laced stiffs amid the unburdened and aroused. They're outsiders in this cosy, free-thinking little community of fellow A-frame cabin-dwellers, adding to the film's familiar elements. Unpacking what that means, why, how the couple became that way and what ẄØnÐĘULÄ can gift them is never a by-the-numbers journey, however. It's revelatory several times over, even if the end destination is also hardly surprising.
Whether decked out head to toe or disrobing, it'd be tough to find a situation where Van Beek, Herriman and Clement didn't delight, particularly when bouncing off of each other in an anything-goes situation. Nude Tuesday's biggest names are that adaptable, that innately comedic, and that able to smoothly zip between the off-kilter and the astute. Clement doesn't have to plumb many depths, but he always plays Bjorn with the exact right dash of charm and eccentricity. Actually, Ballantyne's film itself achieves that latter feat — while finding ample emotional nooks and crannies to explore. Nude Tuesday mightn't have quite hit the spot if it had played out in English, but not because it relies upon gimmickry; rather, by peeling away the chatter, it's a sharper, savvier and funnier picture of communication struggles, and what it truly means to bare it all.