Clear Blue Tuesday provocatively begins with wordless depictions of the 9/11 attacks as witnessed by several anonymous New Yorkers, a gesture that might have been a shrewd, emotional compromise if not for the belittlingly agape looks of “It’s a bird…It’s a plane!” on the actors’ faces. Instead, it’s firmly aligned with the remainder of the film’s dismal egotism, the inadvertent expression of which seems bent on ushering in a new era of selfish faux artistry—one where the indirect effects of international terrorism on one’s pathos are of equal dramatic significance as the plight of those more egregiously victimized.
Following the lives of 11 fictional Manhattan residents with ethnic backgrounds seemingly selected at random, Clue Blue Tuesday shows us the events of only one day per year between 2002 and 2009; as the title might imply, it’s a compilation of the Tuesdays falling closest to 9/11’s anniversary. Even on its own, this temporal conceit feels headed for gutterball contrivance; the characters coincidentally experience their rarest epiphanies and make their most life-altering decisions within these mandolin-sliced moments. But writer-director Elizabeth Lucas brainstormed the project as a collaborative effort between filmmakers, theater actors, and musicians, and apparently every wannabe indie rocker-cum-stage queen in the tri-state area signed on to fully realize the concept. And so what could have been just another HD-video tale of young professional urban malaise has been produced as an offensive musical production.
The comparisons to Rent are unavoidable, partially because of the characters’ reliance on quirky, struggling youth types (e.g., a bald screenwriter with a half-finished script, a shaggy, immature bar-band frontman, and a sci-fi fangirl who daydreams about rendezvous in UFOs while dumping a fellow Trekkie for dissing Captain Janeway). But at least Rent, for all its insidious camp masquerading as serious social discourse, had a flashy sense of theatrical tradition, paying formal and rhetorical homage to both its operatic source and the Sondheim Broadway era. Clear Blue Tuesday ushers us through a series of only tangentially related encounters, arguments, and deliberations that underwritten lyrics redundantly address with pop abstraction (tonal generalizations about fucking up, feeling shitty, and finding the “real me” abound rather than specific conversations that might provide plot mobility).
The compositions themselves, while largely penned by their performers, all contain the same structural weaknesses: There’s usually a relative minor bridge and a third-verse modulation amid a yawn-inducing sea of power pop-ish hooks. And whatever unique signature each musician might have is drowned in indistinguishably generic indie production values and warbly histrionics; perversely, the only rhythmic anomaly pairs a decent backbeat with the movie’s worst words (“spank it,” as the title commands). Along with the transparently chroma-keyed After Effects graphics that accompany each song-detour, one might as well be watching an amateur music video of interminable length.
The tunes’ lack of narrative purpose isn’t an unforgiveable trespass, of course, nor is the desire to showcase the ignored lower rungs of local talent. But the film suffers so deplorably from aimlessness throughout that we’re unsure whether to view the songs as relief from the dialogue or vice versa. Each of the actors involved applies their singular interpretation of Manhattan’s locality to the movie’s splayed-canvas universe, but their characters’ personal trials are explored with monotoned triviality and farfetchedness; would a man living the ghostly shadow of his girlfriend’s death in the 9/11 attacks remarry and sire a daughter without having mentally moved on? And the few attempts at rendering the evolution of racial sensitivity in these times are similarly insincere (a man of Middle Eastern descent is haughtily questioned about his ass-wiping procedure).
Only Caroline King (Jan O’Dell), an elderly woman attempting to revive her professional career after having an unexplained health complication exacerbated by the Twin Towers’ ashen fallout, feels carved from recent history’s raw material; even the forlorn New York skyline money shots and tendentious use of JFK airport in the grand finale fail to establish anything more than a wobbly motif-crutch. Aside from providing some apolitical, over-sexualized blather about processing our national (and regional) tragedy, there’s not much of a reason for Clear Blue Tuesday to exist—and a film that meditates upon post-9/11 psychology without an urgent sense of purpose or even an empathetic voice to guide us through the event’s gnarl of grief isn’t simply mediocre, it’s dishonorable.