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Tully Movie Review

Tully (2018) movie poster Tully

Theatrical Release: May 4, 2018 / Running Time: 95 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Jason Reitman / Writer: Diablo Cody

Cast: Charlize Theron (Marlo), Mackenzie Davis (Tully), Ron Livingston (Drew), Mark Duplass (Craig), Elaine Tan (Elyse), Asher Miles Fallica (Jonah), Maddie Dixon-Poirier (Emmy), Gameela Wright (Laurie), Joshua Pak (Dallas)

 

Screenwriter Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman had a big Hollywood breakthrough together on Juno. That distinctive 2007 comedy about a high schooler's surprise pregnancy had major impact, getting embraced by moviegoers and critics alike. Cody rode that wave all the way to the Academy Awards, where she became the first stripper/blogger to win Best Original Screenplay.
Predictably, there was some backlash to the movie's success and Cody's swift rise. Nonetheless, Reitman went on to adapt and direct Up in the Air (2009), one of last decade's greatest films. He reunited with Cody on 2011's Young Adult, a richer and more mature film than their Oscar-winning first collaboration, but one which didn't have nearly as much pull critically or commercially.

Seven years later, the director and writer come together again in Tully, a film that's a lot closer to Young Adult and not only because it shares Charlize Theron as its leading lady. There is the same blend of humor, humanity, and self-loathing that made Young Adult stand out even while struggling to find an appreciative audience. Theron plays Marlo, a suburban New York mother of two young children who is about to give birth to a third at the start of the film. Better than any movie I've seen, Tully conveys the everyday horrors of motherhood. Marlo's son Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica) is repeatedly identified as "quirky", which is one way to describe the fits he throws like kicking the back of his mother's seat while insisting they park in the full parking lot at his private school instead of a secondary lot. Administrators at the school cannot handle the boy and encourage Marlo to hire a dedicated aide to oversee him individually throughout the school day.

On maternity leave from her human resources job, Marlo shoulders the responsibilities of parenthood largely on her own. Her husband Drew (an age-defying Ron Livingston) is loving and present, but he mostly just helps with the kids' homework, leaving Marlo to deal with the all-hours nursing and calming of their newest, baby Mia, while he retires to bed with headphones for his first-person shooter games. Marlo's affluent brother Craig (Mark Duplass) recommends that Marlo get a night nanny. Actually, he goes even further than that, hiring someone to come in at night and ease Marlo's home workload.

Charlize Theron gives the best performance of the year so far as Marlo, the stressed protagonist of "Tully."

Like a nocturnal, midriff-baring Mary Poppins, Tully (Mackenzie Davis) is just what Marlo needed. A 26-year-old free spirit who looks younger, Tully is full of thoughtful wisdom and takes care of baby Mia's needs from nightfall to sun up, only gently waking up Marlo to provide breastmilk when needed. Suddenly, Marlo has energy and her spirits are lifted. Tully even provides some advice to address Marlo and Drew's lack of intimacy.

The same qualities that made people take notice of Juno are present here, but Cody and Reitman continue to mature as storytellers. Gone are the soon eye-rollable quotables (e.g. "honest to blog") and in their place is smart and witty commentary about dreams, aging, and the sameness of domesticity. Cody, 39 and with two young children of her own, writes from the heart with honesty and compassion. She conveys the complicated feelings of her age and position in a way that is both consistently funny and disarmingly soulful. Reitman shares the writer's evident love and care for these characters, taking time to give them complexity and depth that is rare for comedies.

The results are highly appealing. As on Young Adult, there is the entertainment value of a diverting studio film but also the pathos of a dark, offbeat indie. Tully doesn't conveniently fit a mold or resemble something else. It's a film that you expect to open in limited release and expand, but after a Sundance premiere, Focus Features is actually debuting it wide today, the Friday that used to launch the summer movie season (which the moving of Avengers: Infinity War kicked off a week early this year). Whatever tactic the distributor takes -- and you can see them not opting to expand much further than the three-digit theater count at which Young Adult topped off -- is more of a reflection of what audiences are capable of warming to and enjoying and less a reflection of this admirable and intelligent movie. This is decidedly not escapism, until a major twist flirts with that label and may very well divide audiences or at least require a lot more processing time to determine how they feel.

Night nanny Tully (Mackenzie Davis) is hired to alleviate the motherhood load of Marlo (Charlize Theron).

There is a lot more to say about Tully, but very little of it can be said without wading into the terrain of spoilers that film reviews can not enter. So, I will say that Theron gives another tour-de-force performance, one every bit as good as her outstanding turn in Cody and Reitman's previous teaming. Davis, who you may not be familiar with if you're among the many
who didn't watch AMC's well-regarded "Halt and Catch Fire", is every bit as strong. If this movie were opening seven months later, I would think each woman had some awards potential. Livingston and Duplass do not have as much screentime, but their support is welcome as well.

Once again, Cody's screenplay is practically the star here. She has sustained more of a career than you might have expected, following her sophomore script the 2009 horror comedy Jennifer's Body falling short and Hollywood's general marginalization of female voices. She absolutely deserves it too because her characters and dialogue can withstand comparison to anyone else working today and her stories resonate with modern-day existence as very few do. Reitman has never been a super flashy director, just a really solid one and he maintains that reputation here, serving the story well with some inspired bits of editing and a steady hand, if some unusual frame compositions.

I expect that the public will resist Tully the same way that they stayed away from Young Adult. That's their loss, though, and I encourage you to see this film and go on its journey before someone can spoil it for you. It will certainly give you a lot to think about.

Related Reviews:
Written by Diablo Cody and Directed by Jason Reitman: Young Adult Juno
Written by Diablo Cody: Paradise Jennifer's Body | Directed by Jason Reitman: Men, Women & Children Labor Day
Charlize Theron: Mad Max: Fury Road Hancock I Don't Know How She Does It Brad's Status
Now in Theaters: Avengers: Infinity War Rampage A Quiet Place Isle of Dogs Ready Player One

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Reviewed May 4, 2018.



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