Time stands still at the beginning of Drew Tobia’s “See You Next Tuesday” with the arresting visual of its lead Mona (Eleanore Pienta), bathed in blue light, mouth slightly agape as the film’s opening credits whiz past at the bottom with the possible implication that life might be passing by with them, if only this were another film. Yet “See You Next Tuesday” takes place very much in the moment, a hell that Mona can’t escape as she’s tormented by a pregnancy she never wanted, letting her mind get away from her at the same rate as her belly.
It’s a grim premise for a comedy, but Tobia’s distinctive style brings the light out of the endlessly dark situation Mona finds herself in, sometimes literally with a florid color palette and a xylophone-tinged score to accompany the downtrodden grocery clerk’s travails. Intent on upsetting the apple cart, the film follows Mona from the apartment of her mother May (Dana Eskelson), with whom she would have more of a drinking buddy relationship with if only they weren’t in Alcoholics Anonymous, to eventually the abode of her estranged, entitled artiste sister Jordan (Molly Plunk) after May shares a particularly embarrassing tale at an AA meeting.
The move from one blood relation to another allows Tobia to find a point in all the nastiness he presents, the mental illness that runs through the family, either passed along genetically or instilled by May in both her daughters at an early age. Whatever the cause, it doesn’t bode well for Mona’s soon-to-be-born child and as the indignities pile up, so does the cumulative effect of both Tobia’s sharp humor and even more incisive observation of how each of the women’s uniquely bad behavior, including Jordan’s girlfriend Sylve (Keisha Zollar), affects one another.
He also has a cast appealing and invested enough to withstand an audience’s immediate impulse to recoil from them, especially Pienta, whose sunken eyes can pull off both the desperation and deadpan wit required by Tobia’s script. Although her Mona bears a strong resemblance to a lost puppy, there’s a constant awareness of her surroundings, even if she’s unsure of her place within them, asking why she’s sitting drinking $4 coffee when she could just be lounging on a couch sipping on Sanka and eager to have the approval of her coworkers at the grocery store even if she has little respect for the actual job.
The jumble of Mona’s impulses is replicated in the very fabric of the film, which could be dismissed by some as the mark of an unsure first-time feature director. Yet Tobia makes them work for his narrative, unexpectedly dropping the needle on an instrumental “Teardrops Keep Falling on My Head” as Mona is pulled kicking and screaming from the grocery store during one of her many fits and tucking the most obscene of dialogue into the film’s most tender moments, something hinted at in the film’s deceptive title. Yet there’s a clarity to Tobia’s voice, dirty as it may be in vocabulary, and if he wanted to make a statement with his debut, he’s accomplished that and more with “See You Next Tuesday,” a film that sears itself into memory as it gets under your skin.