Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Movie Review: Tully

Tully **** / *****
Directed by: Jason Reitman.
Written by: Diablo Cody.
Starring: Charlize Theron (Marlo), Mackenzie Davis (Tully), Mark Duplass (Craig), Ron Livingston (Drew), Elaine Tan (Elyse), Maddie Dixon-Poirier (Emmy), Colleen Wheeler (Dr. Smythe), Joshua Pak (Dallas), Lia Frankland (Sarah), Gameela Wright (Laurie), Asher Miles Fallica (Jonah), Stormy Ent (Shasta).
There have been any number of movies about parental anxiety over the years – the horror genre does this well in films like Rosemary’s Baby or The Babadook. A horror movie of a different kind, We Need to Talk About Kevin was about the parent of a school shooter, yes, but it was more about what happens if you hate your own child. The two Bad Moms movies of recent years wrap up the overwork of being a mother into a comedic package – in which it’s easier just to break free of the shackles and expectations, and just do what you want to – everyone is happier that way. Tully is, in its own way, kind of like an amalgamation of all of those things, without the genre sheen. Because it is written by Diablo Cody, it can be clever and funny, but more often than not it’s kind of painful to watch as Marlo (Charlize Theron) tries to juggle everything, is tired all the time, and thinks she’s the worst mother – and wife – in the world. I understand why this movie didn’t exactly set the box office on fire this weekend – but it’s a movie that will last, and every mother will relate to in some way.
Marlo is in her early 40s, and about to pop with her third child (this one being the kind you eventually have to say “You weren’t an accident – you were a surprise!”). She already has two kids – her 8-year old daughter is sweet but shy, her 6-year old is probably on the autistic spectrum somewhere, and may be on his way to being kicked out of kindergarten because he needs so much attention. Her husband, Drew (Ron Livingston) isn’t a bad guy – but he is kind of clueless – he’s the type who works a lot, comes home to help the kids with their homework, then retreats upstairs to play videogames. Still, for the most part, things seem to be working – until baby Mia comes screaming into the house, and upends everything. The first act of this film perfectly captures those early days and weeks of being with a newborn, where you are tired all the time, and often don’t know what is going on outside of the house, or what time it is (I say this as a dad – for moms, its way, way worse).
That is when Tully (Mackenzie Davis) arrives. She is a night nanny – a gift from Marlo’s rich brother (Mark Duplass, perfectly playing the role you hire Mark Duplass to play). Tully will take care of the baby all night, so Marlo can sleep. All she’ll have to do is get up to breast feed – the rest is Tully. The two women bond almost immediately – Tully reminds Marlo a lot of her younger self – when she lived in a loft in Brooklyn, and thought she knew everything, and is also the one character who never seems to judge Marlo. No matter what Marlo is doing, Tully is there to support her – and be interested. Eventually, of course, this too will end – and what happens then?
Tully is the third collaboration between writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman – following Juno and Young Adult (the latter of which features Theron’s best ever performance, as a woman approaching middle age, stuck in her high school persona, and how ugly that has become). All three movies are comedies (Juno more than the other two) with a lot of witty, quick banter and dialogue, but also some real insight into who those characters are as well as aging and maturing. Reitman is coming off of back-to-back letdowns (Labor Day and Men, Women and Children) after a career that seemed to be going nowhere but up. This is, in some ways, his least showy work behind the camera – his most subtle – and some of his best. Cody’s screenplay also slows down a little, and doesn’t force things. The performances by Davis – playing a kind of Mary Poppins as a Brooklyn hipster, and especially Theron (one of our great actresses, doing work her to rival her best performances in Monster, Mad Max: Fury Road and Young Adult) really do help.
The ending of Tully will be much discussed, and to be honest, I’m still processing how I feel about it. It seems at once too pat and predictable, and the only way the film could reasonably end. The movie is honest and at times painful, but it’s not a despairing movie in anyway. It is the most honest movie about parenting you will likely ever see, that still encourages you to do it anyway.

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