TULLY Review

There is a point in the first ten to fifteen minutes of Jason Reitman’s Tully where it’s fair to think this is going to be “one of those movies”. One of those movies that chronicles the small, but sometimes enormously stressful lives of middle-class suburbanites that have become increasingly difficult to feel sorry for in the climate of a world gone off the rails. Everyone has their issues, their problems, their struggles, and they come to be dealt with just as uniquely or just as commonly as the problems themselves might be, but there is no point in asking an audience, who is paying hard-earned money to be entertained, to feel sorry for someone who is going through some of the same experiences they've likely had. This is the key, the turning point really, for Tully in that the movie never asks the viewer to feel sorry for its protagonist and it never asks for forgiveness for her actions either. In fact, the titular character that comes to be embodied by Mackenzie Davis and who is described as a "night nanny", never passes a single judgement on Charlize Theron's Marlo thus encouraging the viewers to do the same; or to at least hold that judgement until we are delivered the entirety of the picture. And so, in many ways Tully simply asks the viewer to either sympathize or empathize with its characters plight, knowing that said viewers might be able to relate, rather than necessarily making a stand about opening up a hidden world beyond the greeting card society we all like to pretend we exist within. The film, written by Diablo Cody (Juno, Young Adult), is best when it gets specific and Cody is known for excelling at this. There are multiple moments of unfiltered truth that capture the essence of what it feels like to be a parent to a newborn that, given how tired and how on auto-pilot new parents are, it’s a mystery how Cody had the forethought to write examples of as much down or even find the humor in certain situations, but she does and it is in these small truths, these everyday instances and challenges where the movie consistently keeps it real and yet moves on as we all have to do that the viewer is able to appreciate what Tully is doing, what it is saying, and what it becomes rather than dismissing it as another in a line of narratives that purport to pull back the curtain on the middle.             

Marlo (Charlize Theron) is expecting her third child in the third Jason Reitman/Diablo Cody collaboration, Tully.
Reitman, who also directed Cody's screenplays for Juno and Young Adult, has had varying degrees of success when tackling the topic of not losing sight of who you are as you grow older-Young Adult would actually make a great companion piece to this as Theron plays the other side of the coin just as well as she does portraying Marlo-but with Tully, Reitman has crafted something wholly apart from anything he's done before. In fact, in tone this feels closest to what was his most critically-ravaged film in Men, Women, & Children, but while that film suffered due to convoluted storylines in order to make obvious points it is Cody's writing that seemingly allows for Reitman to hone in on the aspects he most needs in order to make the most compelling and captivating films. Yes, the main theme in Tully is a simple one in that it is the story of a mother of three trying to balance her work, her children, her husband, and her ambitions and how difficult it can be to keep an even balance making it easy to lose sight of who one is as a person as opposed to who they envisioned themselves becoming. What Tully is about though, is that of not losing sight of who you are and who you want to be despite the fact you are now responsible for other lives that depend on you to successfully shape who they might be. There is this inherent belief or almost expectation in life that once you have children or become a parent that one's own process of evolving ceases until they have completed the task of raising their children and this simply cannot apply or be executed in any successful manner without the parent ultimately becoming little more than a shadow of the person they once were; this kind of full-on devotion only making the process of allowing your children to eventually lead their own lives all the more difficult and frightening. It's a destructive lifestyle choice. And so, besides balance, how does one retain who they are while living for their children? This is something Tully, in the slightest of ways, seeks to try and figure out by operating on a premise that no doubt worked as a process of discovery for Cody herself. The answer it then seems that Cody has come up with is one that might feel obvious, but in the context of the film is one that lands with a powerful and genuine moment of clarity. To discuss too much would be to reveal certain turns the narrative takes that would be detrimental to the experience of those for whom this movie was made at and who will gain the most from it, but to say that Tully will be able to be enjoyed on a multitude of levels over multiple viewings feels like something of an understatement.

At first glance, Tully might seem like something you find on the Lifetime network and Cody is well-aware of such a fact by giving Marlo a level of discernment to the idea of how easily her life could become a said ninety-minute Saturday night feature should she allow this mysterious "night nanny" into she and her children's lives, but rest assured Tully is anything but a conventional family dramedy in the vein of either that network's schlocky guilty pleasures or network television's sappy hyper-sentimental sagas. Instead, Tully is more in line with something of a quaint fable, but without the anthropomorphizing. There is almost an ethereal quality to the film when introducing its titular character into the lives of Marlo and what is primarily her newborn child, Mia. As personified by Davis (That Awkward Moment, Blade Runner 2049) the other-worldly-like Tully is everything Theron's struggling and exhausted Marlo needs at the moment. Besides having just given birth to a newborn and dealing with a husband, Drew (Ron Livingston), who is trying his best despite the fact he doesn't always have the perspective to know that, with the exception of a few things, he and his wife's roles in the lives of their children should be interchangeable she also has the two older kids, one of which she hasn't quite figured out how to deal with yet. Sarah (Lia Frankland) is eight and getting to that stage where she's beginning to be "too hard on herself" whereas she also has to be the older sister to kindergartener Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica) who is somewhere on the autism spectrum, but whom has not been diagnosed officially and who the doctors have only labeled as "atypical" thus far. Marlo and Drew's children are able to attend what looks to be a private Christian school due to the fact Marlo's brother, Craig (Mark Duplass), is a big donor, but given Jonah's increasing need for individual attention the school is asking Marlo and Drew to hire an aide so as to give Jonah that attention he deserves. Even in this small notion from the principal lies a large impact in the lives of our characters and extracts an even larger toll on Marlo's sanity. She loves her kids, that is easy to glean, but it's also clear quite frequently clear that Marlo feels more than out of her depth. She loves Jonah and is willing to try whatever might help (including brushing his skin) soothe his anxiety, but there is no textbook on how to handle a child with needs outside the norm. This is where Tully comes in. Reinforcing the silver linings to Marlo's every day that Marlo fails to see or acknowledge anymore. The routine, the sameness of it all scares Marlo, but on the other end of the spectrum the youthful and spirited Tully seems comforted by the thought of such safety. 

Marlo has a challenging time trying to figure out the best ways to give her son, Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica), the best life.
Naturally, all of this is escalated to a certain level of authenticity by the combination of performances on display, the attention to detail in the production design (Marlo and Drew's house is a wonder of truth unto itself), and how deftly Reitman is able to control the mix of realness as combined with the fairy tale-esque quality of the film as it weaves in and out of the highs and lows Marlo experiences in her day to day. This is without mentioning the charm in Cody's screenplay as there are countless lines of dialogue that are laugh-out-loud funny as well as others that are excruciatingly honest and as sharp as anything you've heard on screen this year. From Sarah waking up and asking, “Why’s the house so clean?” as if something must be wrong because of it to Marlo and her hard, strong mindset dishing out gems such as, "You’re like a book of fun facts for unpopular 4th graders," and, "My body looks like a relief map for a war torn country," to, "Girls don't heal. We might look like we’re all better, but if you look close, we’re covered in concealer.” They are both humorous in the best way in that they offer a very particular yet peculiar example that can still relate to the masses while also cutting to the core of certain elements of our existence. To this extent, the way in which Theron plays Marlo as both this neglected and vulnerable feeling woman to a fearless and sometimes even vicious example of what a mother is called to be allows the actress to not only play a range of emotions, but more Theron is able to put together a whole person and not just a single facet that serves just the story being told. Paired with Davis, the chemistry is infectious from the first moment Tully steps into the house. She is quirky (a word the movie comes to despise, mind you) and at first feels like the epitome of that old Cameron Crowe archetype, but as she and Marlo develop more of a relationship and become more comfortable with one another we see this facade fade away and her inner self come more to the surface just as Marlo learns to let her inner self go a little bit. To this extent, Marlo begins to build a kind of outer presence for herself, ensuring she shows herself enough attention and care to both be a good mother to her children as well as actually be able to enjoy the time she spends with them. That's all Cody, Marlo, and every other parent is chasing anyway right? To not just be there for their children, but to be present with them. If so, the final moments of the film are something as close to perfection as one could get in regards to obtaining the goals your films sets out to accomplish as the interaction between Marlo and Jonah will break your heart while simultaneously putting the biggest smile on your face.

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