UK Release Date: 4th May 2018
Runtime: 96 minutes
Director: Jason Reitman
Writer: Diablo Cody
Starring: Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Ron Livingston, Mark Duplass, Asher Miles Fallica, Lia Frankland
Synopsis: A mother of three, frazzled after the birth of her latest child, hires a night nanny, who broadens her horizons and improves her life beyond simply caring for her daughter.
In the first half of Tully – the latest collaboration between director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody – the daughter of Charlize Theron‘s character recoils in horror when her mother takes off her shirt. “Mom, what’s wrong with your body?” she asks when presented with a mass of stretch marks and skin struggling with the ravages of age and gravity. It’s an image not often seen on the big screen and one that presents the stark reality of parenthood. That’s the order of the day in Tully, which is a charming and intriguing movie helped along by the same sharp humour Cody displayed in Juno – her most successful work with Reitman.
There’s a surprising lightness of touch to Tully, which feels like a rather nice movie, despite the teeth it’s entirely willing to show when the time comes for it. Theron, who also starred in Young Adult for Reitman and Cody, is a force of nature in the leading role, with righteous anger bursting from her visibly exhausted visage when she’s pushed over the edge. The film starts with her in the ninth month of her third pregnancy, dealing with a well-meaning but unhelpful husband (Ron Livingston) and a son who is euphemistically described as “quirky” by his hoity-toity headmistress. When Theron’s Marlo bites back by asking whether she has “a kid or a fucking ukulele”, it’s a sharp-witted statement of tonal intent.
When she has her third child – a daughter – Marlo stops sleeping and begins to suffer severe exhaustion and depression. Her wealthy brother (Mark Duplass) offers to pay for a night nanny and, reluctantly, Marlo makes the call. When Tully (Mackenzie Davis) arrives, she immediately sets about improving every facet of Marlo’s life as well as helping with childcare – like a Manic Pixie Dream Poppins.
It would be easy to dismiss Tully as a trite, unimpressive movie. Certainly, the title character at times speaks like a screenwriter – “I’m like Saudi Arabia; I have an energy surplus.” – and slots neatly into a number of freewheeling, hippie tropes. That, however, neglects the power of Davis’s performance, which is the perfect bouncy combination of charming and creepy. She’s a potent contrast to Theron’s put-upon emptiness and so the yawning chasm between their vastly differing worldviews provide plenty of material for Cody’s spiky dialogue, which is a consistent delight.
Theron rises to the occasion with aplomb and it’s thanks to the two performance that Tully always stands shoulder-high. It also has the unique power of boasting an ending that, in one fell swoop, wipes out every single one of the flaws that had built throughout the story. Tully is an achievement in screenwriting, helmed by a director with the faith to allow the dialogue and the performances to sing, rather than investing time in wild stylistic flourishes.
As admirable as Tully often is, there are occasional clunkers in the script and supporting characters who could have been interesting are given short shrift. Theron’s son, shown having tantrums about minor changes in routine, is a prime example of Hollywood-convenient autism and seems to function as more of a plot device than a rounded character. For the most part, however, the movie is sure-footed and intelligent in its depiction of a character’s unravelling mental state, while communicating the joy presented by youthful naivete.
Pop or Poop?
I was entirely caught off guard by Tully, which is a clever and incisive character study that delves into the truth of parenthood. This is a movie that has no interest in the myth of the “glowing” PTA mother and, through the vessel of Theron’s extraordinary turn, it depicts the weight of expectation and responsibility.
Mackenzie Davis excels as the other side of that coin and the third act slots together in a maybe-too-neat conclusion that, nonetheless, rings emotionally true.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.