Being a mother is tough. A father simply doesn’t understand what it’s like to birth, raise, and bend your life backwards for a child. Mothers give all of themselves to a child. Marlo (Charlize Theron) knows this all too well, being the mother of two with a third child on the way. When you are a mother, the biggest struggle is retaining your former self through pregnancy and the early years.
When Jason Reitman’s beautifully rendered Tully opens up, we get a dose of the daily grind for Marlo. She wakes up and brushes (literally) the skin of her young boy, Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica), to help with his behavioral troubles. She tends to her young daughter, Sarah(Lia Frankland), before taking the two to school. Once there, she can’t leave without talking to the principal about Jonah’s “quirkiness.” Did I mention she was pregnant and her husband works too much?
Marlo needs assistance, and her brother (Mark Duplass) gets her a “night nanny,” someone to help the woman sleep at night and help Marlo transition back to a normal life. When it comes to normal and Marlo, the lines are tricky and blurred. She has suffered trauma in the past and doesn’t take easily to Tully (Mackenzie Davis) when she arrives to help.
The relationship between these two women dominates the rest of the movie, with a few unexpected twists and surprises that give the story enough tilt to come off as original and thought-provoking.
Here’s my main takeaway from Tully: Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody need to work together more often. Her script is edgy and heartfelt at the same time, provoking emotion from the audience and Marlo’s trek gets smooth spots among the many rocks of motherhood. After Juno and Young Adult, these two have made a third film that resonates easily and will make you laugh out loud a few times. Tully is a brutally honest look at parenthood and what the role does to the most free of spirits.
Theron proves she is one of the best in the business. She can go from the ruthless action heroine in Atomic Blonde to the inescapable muck of Marlo in Tully without breaking a sweat. You shouldn’t need more than two hands to count the amount of actresses who pull off that feat. Some would say she got “ugly” to win her Oscar for Monster, but I think she just disappeared into the role. The work she puts in as Marlo is most impressive because she doesn’t wear hardly an ounce of makeup to climb into this mother’s soul.
Marlo is too good of a mother: in other words, she cares too little about herself that the rest of her life has gone numb. This disconnect causes her to snap at the principal and say whatever she wants at her brother’s rich and luxurious home. She doesn’t care because she doesn’t know where mother ends and Marlo begins.
Davis’ scenes with Theron are witty and well-written, bringing together two women from different walks of life who may be able to help each other in the end. Hanging around in a big cast in films like The Martian, Davis gets the chance to shine here, holding her own with a high-caliber talent like Theron.
Duplass is fine in a small role, but Livingston gets a big scene near the end where he gets the microphone for about five minutes. Known as the best friend or sidecar in many movies, Livingston doesn’t waste the stage when he has it. Theron and Livingston make a convincing couple, and that helps the film move well.
The film is a tight 96 minutes without much filler. You won’t stare at your watch too often. Cyndi Lauper powers a soundtrack that fits in with Reitman’s usual indie establishment of tunes. The cinematography and editing are sharp, aiding the direction without overpowering you.
After a couple hits together, I expected Reitman/Cody greatness going in-and I still managed to be surprised. You won’t see a more authentic interpretation of motherhood than you do with Tully.
This is another film that speaks “Oscar” to me, especially for Theron’s performance and Cody’s writing.
There’s a scene at the midway point of the film where a character asks another, “why are you so good to me?”
I’d like to ask the same thing of Reitman, Cody, and Theron. They have a created film that asks the right questions without dialing back the impact that the answers surely bring. Mother, fathers, and children should appreciate Tully, a heartfelt and edgy drama.