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Lola Petticrew and Julia Louis-Dreyfus confront the end (and a parrot) in "Tuesday."

“And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die,” wrote John Donne. The 17th-century metaphysical poet had a powerful imagination, but I doubt that he imagined it happening with some unemployed caregiver smacking Death with a heavy book, dousing it with whiskey, setting it on fire, and then eating it. That is the visual that the arresting film Tuesday gives us, and as it has what are probably its last showings in North Texas theaters this week, you might want to catch this ineffably strange and funny meditation on the end of life.

The Tuesday in the title refers to Lily Tuesday Marković (Lola Petticrew), a 15-year-old London girl who goes by her middle name and is confined to a wheelchair because she’s dying of a wasting disease. While her American mother Zora (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is out pretending to work as a graphic designer, Tuesday is visited by Death in the form of a ratty-looking scarlet macaw (voiced by Arinzé Kene). She knows that the bird is there to take her life, but she gives the parrot a bath, and the thing starts talking to her after being mute for decades.

This is the work of first-time filmmaker Daina O. Pusić, and she makes everything about this bird strange. It can shrink to the size of a housefly or grow to the size of a grizzly bear. It can imitate the voice of everyone from Tuesday herself to Jesus Christ. It smokes marijuana and raps along with Ice Cube on “It Was a Good Day.” It hears the voices of everyone it has ushered into the next world, which is a fair reason why it frequently acts insane, and it gives Tuesday the scoop on the famous people whose deaths it has presided over. (Shown a picture of Stalin, Death dismisses him, “Absolute prick.”) This conceit could easily have become cutesy in the wrong hands, but Pusić (helped by Kene’s sepulchral tones) makes sure that this bird always feels like something that’s not of this world.

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Impressively, the movie does not lose its juice once Zora kills Death in the manner I described above. Then a strange thing happens: Everything in Britain stops dying, including construction workers who’ve suffered gruesome accidents, cows killed in slaughterhouses, and sick people who have it even worse than Tuesday. That doesn’t even touch on the weird things that happen to Zora, who has to take on Death’s job and send all those living things whose time has come into the afterlife.

It’s a showcase for Louis-Dreyfus, who has shown her dramatic chops recently in Downhill and You Hurt My Feelings but not to the extent that she does here, as Zora’s denial about Tuesday’s condition leads her to behave badly. More to the point, the movie contains a far more moving look at grief and loss than a more conventional approach would have given. In its bizarre way, Tuesday is a masterwork.

Tuesday
Starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Lola Petticrew. Written and directed by Daina O. Pusić. Rated R.

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