What it’s about: Marlo [Charlize Theron] is an expectant mother with two kids who already completely run her life. Her daughter is on the heels of the difficult teenage years and her son has been difficult transitioning into kindergarten, showing some antisocial signs that haven’t been properly diagnosed. Her husband Drew is present but always busy with work and worn out by the time he gets home. With all this on her plate, her more successful brother gifts her a “night nanny” to take care of the baby while she can catch up on some sleep. When Tully [Mackenzie Davis] shows up, Marlo’s life is immediately turned right-side-up for a change. Her new companion leads to a better social, family, and sex life but it might only be a temporary fix.
Be warned of spoilers from here on out -- it isn’t the kind of movie you expect to need a spoiler warning for and so that itself is kind of a spoiler, there’s just no way to get around it. I’ll try my best not to talk specifically about the ending of Tully, but there are important thematic and narrative details that dramatically change.
Tully was a film I was greatly anticipating and a little afraid of seeing. I’m a modest fan of Jason Reitman but I think I’ve really liked everything I’ve seen from Diablo Cody. And together, they’ve done great work. As a soon-to-be first time father, I knew this would be a reality check. I was planning to see the film with my wife but ended up going to the theater by myself on a Sunday afternoon and I’m a little glad I did. I can’t imagine seeing Tully while pregnant. It would be the stuff of horrors. I at least had a bit of distance from the emotional and physical torment that Tully depicts.
No matter how strikingly real the film gets the act of motherhood, it can’t work without Charlize Theron’s performance. She is unsurprisingly perfect. She completely hits every turn of the emotional rollercoaster, all the anger and joy and sadness and humor. I think we can already assume her third Oscar nomination. [Somehow she hasn’t been nominated since 2006. How is that possible?? Perhaps I shouldn’t be so confident when she was completely snubbed for Young Adult.]
Tully is like a Disney character stepping into stark reality without realizing it. While watching the film I actually wanted this to be a little more explicit. By the end of the film I realized why that would have probably been a bad thing. Mackenzie Davis gives just enough sense of something magical in what turns out to be a really tough character to portray.
And so, I’m a little torn. While part of me wishes Tully went outright into the magical realism that was floating just below the surface, that obviously would have tipped everything that comes together by the end of the film. As it is, I respect the bold nature and really appreciate what it says about motherhood and the characters. The themes about how people are changed by life events and the longing of your past self is realized in interesting ways. At times the messages and implications of the twist are handled with beautiful subtlety, other times with distracting obviousness -- I wonder if it would actually be better knowing exactly what is going on from the start, that some of the conversations between Marlo and Tully would have even more resonance if they were just plain on their face. Within the narrative, it doesn’t exactly stick the turn.
The newborn montage is the film’s best scene -- much of it was pulled into the film’s fantastic trailer. It is a beautifully crafted sequence, vibrant and scary and funny and real. It is perfectly edited. This scene alone already makes me wonder if there will be an unexpected Best Editing nomination.
Another montage that is less dynamic and thematically resonant is a later sequence where Marlo and Tully drive into New York City for a much needed night on the town. The montage is simple: cuts of driving on busy highways under construction and snippets of Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual. It is a perfect visual and aural representation of the passage of time during a commute.
Marlo’s diatribe about people calling her son “quirky” (“What does that even mean?”) makes me think of how people talk about Juno. I’m not sure if this is a dig from Diablo Cody, but I like to think it is.
Before seeing Tully, I was a little concerned about how it would approach the husband character, played by the perfectly cast boring dad Ron Livingston. Drew is a minor character by screen time and appropriately so. I was worried that he would be something of a scapegoat, perhaps sparked by my own anxieties of becoming a father. Tully makes him a realistic character and directly points out his faults -- he isn’t a monster or necessarily even a bad dad as you see him through Marlo’s loving eyes, but it doesn’t let him off the hook, either. I was surprised by how much of the ending of the film focused on Drew’s realization that he needs to be a better husband and father. For that message, I’m glad I saw Tully.