Movie Review: Tully
By Felix Quinonez
May 30, 2018
Buoyed by a winning performance from Charlize Theron, Tully is an honest, often entertaining and very moving look at motherhood.
The movie directed by Jason Reitman reunites the director and its star after previously collaborating on the criminally overlooked, Young Adult. It’s also the third collaboration between Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody. Or fourth if you count Jennifer’s Body. (But you shouldn’t count that)
Marlo, (Charlize Theron) is an overwhelmed, overworked mother of two with a third one on the way. When she’s not dealing with the pressures of having a “quirky” son, she’s condescended to by strangers who can’t help but remind her that decaf coffee still has traces of caffeine. (Doesn’t she know that’s bad for the baby?)
Her husband Drew, (Ron Livingston) is loving and well-meaning but he is either lost in his work or lost in his videogames. And because of this, it becomes pretty clear that she’s spreading herself too thin.
This doesn’t go unnoticed by her brother, Craig. (Mark Duplass) He’s a wealthy but generally decent guy who can’t hide his concern for his sister. Recalling an episode of postpartum depression that Marlo previously had, he offers to pay for a “night nanny.” The night nanny comes to take care of the newborn at night so the parents can get some sleep.
Although Marlo initially turns down the offer, she eventually comes around. And when Tully (Mackenzie Davis) shows up one night, there is an initial hesitation but Marlo slowly begins to trust her. Tully’s entrance marks a shift for the movie. Her first appearance has a dream like quality to it. This feels like the movie is mirroring Marlo’s sleep deprived state. And soon Tully’s soothing personality puts Marlo’s worries to rest.
Tully quickly proves to be a godsend. She not only, takes care of the baby but cleans the house and makes cupcakes too. And when it’s time to feed the baby, she gently wakes Marlo. And because of this, Marlo slowly begins feeling reenergized and regaining her confidence. The two of them bond and begin to develop a friendship and that’s when the movie really starts to take shape.
There isn’t much in way of plot but that winds up being one of the movie’s strengths. The script is concise because the filmmakers understand that it’s the relationships not the plot that really matter here.
It helps that the two actresses have great chemistry. And Diablo Cody’s dialogue is as snappy as ever. But it also packs an emotional depth that her work has been accused of lacking. And the actresses deliver their lines perfectly.
They keep the viewers hooked even when the movie’s final act takes a sharp, potentially divisive turn. The movie makes a bold decision that begs for suspension of disbelief. But by then the movie has worked itself into the hearts of viewers so that it should be easy to forgive any narrative inconsistencies.
Theron’s Performance is brutally raw and elevates the movie’s borderline inconsequential premise. She is captivating and commands attention every second she’s on screen. She gives a revelatory performance that deserves recognition come award season.
Mackenzie Davis also gives a very strong performance and if not for Theron, she might have been the movie’s standout. Her role isn’t written especially well and at times it borders too close to a variation of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype. But Davis finds a way to make her memorable and gets to the heart of the character. Even if she’s not fully fleshed out, her performance is strong enough to hint at the depth of character that lies just off-screen, allowing the viewer to fill in the gaps. And although the movie has a strong cast with no real weak link, it’s very clear that the movie belongs to the women at the center, especially Theron.
The movie is full of emotion without drifting into melodramatic sentimentality. It tugs at the heart without being contrived. And it captures the feeling of helplessness that most people have experienced at one time or another. At times, Marlo feels like she’s knee deep in quicksand and the more she tries to fight it, the more she gets dragged down.
Another one of the movie’s biggest strengths is how it examines motherhood. It’s very common for movies to define the mother by her relationship with her kids but Tully has its sights squarely aimed at the mother. She is portrayed as a person rather than an extension of her children.
And it’s a slow burn of a movie that sneaks up on the viewer emotionally. At the outset, Tully plays like a study of the mundane, repetitive details that make up parenthood. But like all great movies, it uses its premise as a vehicle to tell a larger story. And by the end, it’s impossible not to feel emotionally invested.
It’s a very layered story and the script peels away at Marlo to reveal that beneath her problems there are more, hiding below the surface. She’s like a Russian nesting doll of trauma and unhealed wounds.
And at one point Tully becomes more about the bittersweet nature of getting older and watching life, seemingly, pass you by. It’s about looking back on your life and wondering…what if? The movie very movingly portrays the anguish of always being haunted by the roads not taken and the regret that often becomes part of our lives.
Felix Quinonez Jr. is an independent comic book creator living in Brooklyn, NY.
His self-published comic books and graphic novel have been sold in stores in NYC and online. He is the co-editor and contributor of a comic book Anthology called Emanata. That book features the work of many other talented creators from all around the country. You can check out his comic books and read more of his writing here.