Hidden Gem: Tully
By Dan Krovich
July 12, 2004
Perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay Tully is that it’s a movie that makes me want to watch the end credits. Instead of leaving the theater, turning off the television, or switching over to see what else is on the tube, Tully provides such a sense of contentment that I want to make it last through the final disclaimer that the movie is not based on actual persons living or dead. Made in 2000, the film played the festival circuit under the title The Truth about Tully, picking up audience and critic awards, but not securing a distribution deal with any of the major indie distributors. Eventually, upstart distributor Small Planet Pictures picked up the film and made it its first release in 2002, taking it to a respectable $400,000+ at the box office.
With good looks and an easy charm, Tully Coates Jr. is a small town ladies-man who dates a different woman every night. During the day, he works on the struggling family farm with his shy and awkward brother, Earl, and their father, Tully Sr., who has raised them alone since their mother died when they were boys. When Earl’s friend Ella returns to town from vet school, she begins a wary relationship with Tully, moving cautiously because of his reputation. Tully himself begins to wonder if he can become a settle-down kind of guy when it’s so much easier just to continue to be what everybody expects him to be.
The greatest strength of the film is its characters. At first glance they may each seem to fall into a well-worn stereotype, but throughout the movie surprising nuances are exposed that don’t betray their core character, but add depth. Tully seems to be not strictly a womanizer, but as much a victim himself at the hands of the women he beds; meanwhile, Earl shows an inner strength hidden by his outer insecurities. The cast (Anson Mount as Tully, Jr., Glenn Fitzgerald as Earl, Bob Burrus as Tully, Sr., and Julianne Nicholson as Ella) hit all the right notes to bring these characters and their evolution to life. Ella expresses it best: “I don’t really like thinking of people as types. I like thinking people can surprise you.”
In that task, they are aided by subtle direction by Hilary Birmingham. While the major plot twists and revelations have their impact, it’s the surprising little moments that hit like a ton of bricks. Sometimes the seemingly simplest gestures are what have the most profound effect.
Tully probably remained hidden because it is a fairly straightforward story that concentrates on character development and relationships. It lacks the showiness that seems to be necessary for an independent film to break through, so without a major star to sell it, Tully had a rough road through the travails of distribution. That’s a shame, because it is a nearly perfect gem of a film.