Updated: Feb 6, 2020
Tully is a smart, funny, insightful drama starring Charlize Theron as an exhausted wife and mother whose life is changed after her brother convinces her to hire a night nanny to take care of her newborn. It is sharply written on top of being very well acted. The ending is a bit of a letdown as it raises a couple of issues that the story never satisfactorily addresses. However, the rest of the film definitely makes up for it.
Charlize Theron proves once again what a great actress she can be. She is funny and vulnerable as a woman who attempts to be a superhero for her kids and oblivious husband, while hiding the effect it is having on her mental state. She puts on a happy face for her family but, even as she is taking care of them, no one is taking care of her. Theron makes Marlo sympathetic and realistic. She feels like she is supposed to be responsible for everyone else, which causes her to neglect her own needs.
She gets some support in the form of Tully (Mackenzie Davis), a free-spirited 26-year old who appears to perfectly understand how to help Marlo regain her energy. Davis is an excellent choice to offset Theron’s world-weariness and caustic wit. Her Tully is only concerned with aiding her client in any way possible. Davis is somehow able to bring optimism to nearly every line. She is a ray of sunshine barging its way into Marlo’s depression. At first, it seems a little like wish fulfillment; she is Mary Poppins, showing up with all the answers to assist this woman in putting her life back together. Though it is not quite that simple. Davis makes the character feel real and likable from the moment she is introduced.
Theron controls the tone of Tully. Similar to the film, she uses humor to distract from sadness. Also like the film, she is shaken out of it by the title character. Tully (90 minutes minus the final credits) was written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman. It is the third time they have worked together after 2007’s Juno (for which Cody won an Oscar) and 2011’s Young Adult (also starring Charlize Theron). Cody has a very distinct writing style, a studied quirkiness mixed with raw honesty. Reitman (plus the strong casts they have had for all three of their collaborations) knows exactly how to modulate the humor so that the emotions ring powerfully true.
It is a delicate balancing act that works for the vast majority of the movie. Unfortunately, the conclusion fails to fully deliver. It answers several of the questions I had along the way, but I am not sure precisely what it is supposed to mean for Marlo and her family. It is not bad per se, just slightly disappointing. However, that does not detract from the many positives such as Theron’s strong performance or her excellent chemistry with Mackenzie Davis.
Tully is a raw look at the difficulties of motherhood instead of a superficial fantasy. Marlo tries to be supermom, but she struggles with the weight of that every minute of every day. This is not something you normally see in Hollywood productions, where moms tend to find that the simplest solutions to their problems work the best. There are no simple solutions here. This is a movie that truly understands the pressure that a lot of women face to be everything for everyone in their family, leaving little room for them to think about themselves. Tully is a very perceptive story that stops just short of greatness. But it certainly makes me hope that Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody team up again, and that we do not have to wait another seven years to see what they come up with next.
4¼ out of 5
Charlize Theron as Marlo
Mackenzie Davis as Tully
Ron Livingston as Drew
Lia Frankland as Sarah
Asher Miles Fallica as Jonah
Mark Duplass as Craig
Elaine Tan as Elyse
Directed by Jason Reitman
Written by Diablo Cody