An excellent script from Diablo Cody is brought to life by a peak performance form Charlize Theron. Ensure you see this one, either in theaters now or streaming later.
The Good: One hell of a screenplay and some excellent performances across the board.
The conflict in Tully is surprisingly simple: “I am not enough – how come?”
This is a common conflict, explored countless times before. But writer Diablo Cody (Juno) takes this idea in a new direction by refocusing it entirely on Charlize Theron’s Marlo.
Marlo is loved by her children and husband. Life is not perfect – children are difficult, her husband is less attentive than he should be, and as in all things, there’s just not enough time. But she is still appreciated – those seem to harbor few complaints about Marlo.
Instead, Marlo is not enough for Marlo. And that’s where the magic of this unassuming film lies. Hidden inside the shell of a traditional “parenting is tough” film is a fascinating introspection about self-doubt, self-expectations, and self-delusion.
Director Jason Reitman (Juno) has a return-to-form of sorts, once again conveying, very personally, the ugliness of something often made mythical on film – this time, motherhood and the mundanity of everyday life.
Reitman and cinematographer Eric Steelberg use traditional camera tropes in new ways here, often placing POV shots from Theron’s perspective that objectify Mackenzie Davis, her co-star and the titular nanny. It creates an interesting effect for the viewer, with Davis as an object not of sexualization, but of envy, even contempt at times.
However, the true kudos go to Theron and Davis. Their relationship is born entirely through nuances in dialogue and body language. Their difference in real life age and experience plays perfectly into their characters. They are dichotomous but pair together with an ease that speaks volumes.
Without going into spoilers – Tully is only half of what it seems. Davis and Theron performances in the climax of the film is worth the ticket price alone.
The Bad: Some flat chemistry detracts only a little.
The chemistry between Theron and her husband, played by Ron Livingston, is downplayed and comes off as flat. This could be intentional, conveying the context of their relationship through these traded tones. Unfortunately, it comes off more as trading lines, and the audience can’t help but wait their scenes out, hoping to see more of Marlo and Tully next.
The Ugly: A rare example of media taking an untouched look at an aging woman.
Theron’s Marlo is kind of gross. And that’s not a critique, it’s the point. Motherhood, with its propensity to be like a living hell on one’s body and mind, can be kind of gross.
She is short-tempered and impatient, riddled with stretch marks and various child’s fluids, and just generally doesn’t give a damn about your opinion. Other films might’ve placed Marlo in a redeeming light, “look at how great she’s doing in spite of __!” or shown how virtuous these things are, “the difficulties are actually beautiful, to be celebrated!”
Tully denies these ideas, to a degree. It isn’t interested in touching up the experience with a brush of virtue, nor painting them as negatives to be overcome. The conditions of her life are, at times, gross. That’s motherhood.
Marlo might stab a finger in your chest and tell you to deal with it.
“A new comedy from Academy Award (R)-nominated director Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air”) and Academy Award (R)-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody (“Juno”). Marlo (Academy Award (R) winner Charlize Theron), a mother of three including a newborn, is gifted a night nanny by her brother (Mark Duplass). Hesitant to the extravagance at first, Marlo comes to form a unique bond with the thoughtful, surprising, and sometimes challenging young nanny named Tully (Mackenzie Davis).” – Rotten Tomatoes