Is it too early to start predicting Oscar success? I hope not because we have one of our first truly solid contenders for award season in a new dramady called “Tully”, a film that brings together writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman once again to recapture their magical understanding of parenthood and human growth with the same finesse and sincerity they brought to 2007’s “Juno”. Sporting a pair of very talented actresses and a smooth story with a pretty neat twist “Tully” is a film I’ve longed to see since I first saw the trailer a few months ago and it didn’t disappoint. Let’s dig a little deeper. This is my review of “Tully”.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT
“Tully” stars Charlize Theron as Marlo, a pregnant mother of two experiencing the struggles of parenthood with a self-doubting daughter, a quirky son, and her husband Drew (Ron Livingston) who often travels and leaves her to manage the family on her own. After having her new child Marlo reluctantly hires a night nanny who watches the baby while Marlo has the opportunity to sleep. Enter Tully (Mackenzie Davis) who becomes a confidant for Marlo as the 20-something-year-old carefree nanny with a big heart helps guide the 30-something-year-old Marlo through her struggles of motherhood and adapt to a life she never intended to live. As the story progresses we learn that Marlo and Tully may have a connection that goes well beyond their professional relationship leading to a jaw dropping conclusion that ties it all together.
If you’ve read my reviews you may wonder why I don’t have an acting section here. Well that’s because over the past few reviews I’ve felt like the acting section was a bit redundant so now I’m just going to combine the acting compliments into the “What Worked” and “What Didn’t Work” segments of my reviews. Anyways I bring that up because the acting in this film is truly astounding. Most of the action focuses on two actresses, Charlize Theron as Marlo and Mackenzie Davis at Tully. One an experienced actress with a proven track record and the other an up-and-comer making her mark, these two actresses work off each other with incredible and believable chemistry that makes the relationship between the mother and nanny feel legitimate and relatable. “Tully” takes a bit to get going but once it does and we get to see these two actresses on screen together doing what they do best it’s mesmerizing. The conversations are fluid, the revelations are timely and appropriate, and the dialogue is so well written it’s not hard to believe this is a real friendship blossoming between these two.
“Tully” as a full project provides some great social commentary on the struggles of motherhood and the stigma of the “super mom”. Marlo is human. She struggles with life and providing for the lives of her three children and, like many mothers, feels a little left behind by the world because of that pressure. It’s a striking look at modern family dynamics without being pretentious. Every point that “Tully” makes feels justified and controlled, meaning even when a truly strong and resonating message is thrown into the mix it never feels like this film is beating you over the head with it. Instead we get these revelations through the exchanges between Marlo and Tully and many of them are delivered with some quick wit and smile-inducing one-liners that, again, don’t feel forced. Every line and exchange comes off as natural statements to bring some levity to the tension of the story, making it that much more believable and enjoyable.
I have to give a special shout out to Charlize Theron who gained 50 pounds for the role and, according to her own accounts, worked for a year and a half to lose the weight. There are very few visual tricks here. Theron actually allowed herself to become a relatively “normal” looking woman in order to capture Marlo perfectly. Theron deserves to be considered for an Oscar for her commitment to character alone, not to mention her complimenting performance. Theron’s naturally gained weight puts her in striking contrast to Davis’ figure which, again, plays into their conversations and even serves as an important part of the revelation in the finale. One of the best aspects of “Tully” is that the filmmakers and the actors were unafraid to be real and to lose themselves in this project giving us what is essentially an eye-opening, well written and solid cinematic look at a mother of three’s midlife crisis and journey of self-acceptance with her 20s gone to the past.
Before I move on I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on the final act where an amazing revelation comes to light that ties the whole story together. This finale is worth the entire run time of the film as it’s one of the coolest revelations I’ve ever had in a movie theater. It’s a twist that immediately had me recollecting aspects of the story that all finally fit into place where originally they seemed like throwaway details for the sake of story and conversation giving “Tully” incredible replay value as one of those films that you need to rewatch a few times once you get what’s going on and realize that it was right there in front of you the whole time. It kind of reminded by of the twist from “The Sixth Sense” but not quite as epic, so if for no other reason I’d recommend it for that. Trust me, this movie will play out a lot differently the second time around than it does the first.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
As I said earlier “Tully” does take some time to get going, but once it does find its footing the journey is a captivating one. That said, the pace for me was a bit odd. Not odd enough to spoil the experience, but enough to make me wonder at least once when the major story of Marlo and Tully would kick in. So if you’re not ready for it “Tully” can be a boring dramatic ride so a warning to anyone: go in prepared to invest yourself in the story or you won’t enjoy it. You have to care enough about what “Tully” has to say to truly appreciate it. If not there’s not a lot here to draw you in even for the short hour-and-a-half run time.
There is a bit of danger in the movie’s portrayal of Marlo that it appears I’m not the first to notice. Part of the story ties mental health to motherhood and that could be considered a pretty dangerous decision by Reitman and Cody as this is one of the few concepts that surface that is not fully explored. Marlo shows frustration and a mental struggle with her own children early on and it’s a theme that remains throughout the film. Even when she looks like she has made a breakthrough to become a more confident and capable mother Marlo is still shown to have a deteriorating mental state in the face of her parental stress. Tully’s involvement helps balance this, but Marlo’s dependence on Tully can be interpreted as yet another part of her mental status and the movie leaves Marlo’s mental health issues undefined with little solid resolution. Marlo is a good mother. She cares for her kids and goes out of her way to make them happy. So, the stigma of connecting such a person with deteriorating mental illness without a solid conclusion to that character ark opens the door for a lot of misunderstanding, BUT that’s only if you want to read into it that way. The rest of “Tully” does enough to make up for this potentially controversial oversight in storytelling as the film offers plenty of substance and significance to balance it out.
“Tully” might be a slow film, but it’s an important film that has a lot to say and tells it in a nice, tight, and focused story with great writing and direction complimented by committed acting from its leads. The last ten or eleven years have given plenty of modern coming-of-age stories to hold on too, but this is a rare treat that focuses on the struggles of the older demographic with a strong focus on motherhood and the stress of trying to live a life for everyone else while your own life seems to have already gone by. There’s true frustration and hope that permeates this story and I have to admit it’s probably one of the most real and sincere cinematic experiences I’ve seen all year. It sets a high standard for films still to come as an early contender for the 2019 Academy Awards in my book and it all comes around to a great twist ending full of revelations that demands a rewatch. Personally I enjoyed it and found it a no-holds-barred honest depiction of motherhood in the modern day that was well worth my consideration and viewing.