Director Jason Reitman
Starring Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Ron Livingston, Mark Duplass, Elaine Tan
Tully completes a trilogy of films from director Jason Reitman and writer/producer Diablo Cody following on from Juno and Young Adult, the latter of which also starred Charlize Theron. Reitman has described Juno as being about characters forced to grow up too fast, Young Adult about one who wasn’t growing up fast enough and now with Tully about what happens when you do. It’s no surprise that the characters remain as flawed and worried as the ones who preceded them in the other films.
Charlize Theron is Marlo, a mother of two heavily pregnant with her third. She’s a mum and a wife in a life that consumes her time into those two roles, especially that of a parent. She has a husband named Drew (Ron Livingston) who is nice and easygoing but he’s working a lot of hours and taking trips. That’s a good thing because they’re worried about money like any middle class family into the first few years of a mortgage and child rearing. Yet as he sits playing video games late at night to lull him to sleep, Marlo is on the point of exhaustion when her well off brother gifts a night nanny for the newborn.
Up until this point Tully has been a slice of life capturing amongst other things the truths about the manic race to get to school on time, breastfeeding and the tension of wondering what will be said at dinner with extended family members. Reitman and Cody have not lost their skill at setting up Theron for a classic look of silent fury but we’re not quite sure what this film is going to be. Then Tully (Mackenzie Davis) the night nanny arrives and raises more questions. She seems nice and helpful but a bit too familiar. There is a delicate balance in the dialogue where Tully is almost usurping Marlo in her own home but Marlo only seems to become friendlier in response. Where will this lead? Some of this feels right out of a lifetime horror film as Marlo actually suggests early on but the resolution is a lot more interesting.
Theron, one of the biggest stars and best actresses working today, has made a career out of playing strong women but with Marlo she shows a new maternal warmth and plays a character who is facing time catching up to her. She’s famously packed on 22 kilos for the role which is impressive but more impressive is the way she inhabits the joy and pain of parenting. Reitman again shows a knack for playing up the inherent bad-ass attitude of Theron’s star persona and her keen insight as an actress to reveal depths of vulnerability and pathos. Marlo is doing the best she can, she is not feeling sorry for herself but she is constantly being brought into conflict with school administration, well-meaning strangers and disagreeable children and she is at breaking point. She’s also in that time and place where everybody sees her as a Mum first and foremost including even herself and she’s wondering what the hell happened to me? All except Tully, Tully wants to know who Marlo is and acts like there’s more to her than being a Mum while telling her that is the most amazing thing about her. Mackenzie Davis plays the character with just the right amount of unnerving in your face confidence and enigmatic mystery.
A midlife crisis is a well-worn cliché but here Reitman and Cody give a film for young mums that is more real and honest than the broad comedy of Bad Moms. There’s some great little moments here whether it’s spouses talking about the other’s siblings or the way the lighting changes to a sunny glow whenever Marlo has a positive interaction with her kids despite most of the film being overcast and grey in its settings. If Theron, Reitman and Cody want to continue doing films together showing different stages of life, Tully suggests the best is yet to come.