Director: Jason Reitman
Screenplay: Diablo Cody
Starring: Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Mark Duplass, Ron Livingston
Runtime: 96 Minutes
Director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody’s collaborations over the past decade have delivered the most insightful works of both of their careers. Tully feels like the culmination of the best aspects of their previous works, melding their grounded approach to motherhood in Juno with the biting existential nightmare of youths lost and paths not taken in Young Adult.
Tully’s story depicts a monotonous, emotionally draining and all-consuming vision of contemporary motherhood as Charlize Theron’s Marlo reaches breaking point shortly after the birth of her third child, and hires a night nanny in the form of young, high flung millennial Tully (Mackenzie Davis) to offer help and emotional support.
Though the critical whirlwind being stirred around Charlize Theron’s physical transformation by gaining nearly 50 pounds for the role, there’s a reason Reitman came back to her following their success with Young Adult. She’s showing excellent work here on an emotional front as much as a physical one.
It takes a lot for an actor to look realistically tired on screen, but Theron sells the hell out of a character who looks like she hasn’t slept in years, and the life she has been resigned to by her own choices adding a weight and dimension to her biting personality as much as Cody’s sharply witted and occasionally scorching screenplay.
When the film is at its best, it's taking the ordinary and making it more so on screen. A montage depicting the nightly routine of tending to an infant is a flurry of sound and visual drama that lasts all of a couple of minutes but lingers the strongest in the films natural visual spectrum.
It’s choices to show the ugly unseen aspects of mundanity and routine are amongst its strongest elements, especially regarding how Marlo handles her son Jonah's increasingly volatile behaviour in and out of school. There’s also something to be said of the way it depicts aspects of privilege with wealthier white families, here depicted by her successful brother Craig (Mark Duplass) who is well-meaning but ultimately doesn’t understand the struggle Marlo endures on a daily basis when she’s not putting up a front for the outside world.
It’s helped by a supporting cast who all feel born into their roles, with Ron Livingston making the most of husband Drew, who enters and leaves their household life seeming oblivious to the chores she is facing even though he’s mostly good at heart.
Mackenzie Davis has crafted a career out of depicting spritely millennial characters, but she’s really good as Tully. Her chemistry with Theron works and she fulfils her duty as a Mary Poppins figure, there to fulfil Marlo’s emotional needs as much as being an extra pair of hands.
That’s a comparison not to be taken lightly in any respect. Tully’s arrival into the film feels like something of a manic pixie dream girl wish fulfilment fantasy for Marlo who has entered her life just as things are becoming all too real and frightening for her to cope – but she also turns out to be the film’s single greatest hindrance.
Without going into many of the details surrounding the film’s third act, the conclusion that Cody’s screenplay comes to regarding the relationship between Marlo and Tully crosses a line early on and then follows it to its final supposition. Maybe given a better approach in direction, or some further ambiguity of Cody’s part, the ending might have come across better than it ultimately does.
Tully ends on a silly, somewhat problematic, final note that will send many rolling their eyes in their sockets and breathing with actively frustrated sighs. Which is a shame, because the film up until this point – specifically the first act – is genuinely fantastic, where Theron powerfully rules over the film for every second she’s in the frame.