The director-screenwriter duo of Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody is one that I always look forward to. Juno might not be anything special, but it’s good. Their follow-up, Young Adult, is a bit better, and added another great Charlize Theron performance to the increasingly long list of them. And now we have Tully, in which Reitman, Cody, and Theron get together in order to take a stab at parenting—and, in particular, motherhood.
Theron plays Marlo, mother of two with a third literally days away. Her husband (Ron Livingston) works a lot and sometimes has to travel; he’s not there a ton and the child-raising is largely left to her. One of the children is rather difficult—he appears to have some sort of developmental disorder—and this makes it even more stressful and tiring. In order to help out, her brother (Mark Duplass), offers to pay for a month of a “night nanny,” who would show up late at night, pay attention to the impending newborn, and let Marlo get some sleep. Marlo initially refuses, eventually relents, and then Tully (Mackenzie Davis) shows up at her doorstep.
The two create an interesting on-screen dynamic. Marlo is tired, slightly cynical, and constantly right on the edge of her breaking point. Tully, conversely, is enthusiastic and energetic, seemingly without a care in the world. She’s good—no, great—at her job, and dramatically improves Marlo’s life almost instantly. Their friendship becomes one of the film’s focal points, as does the contrast between Marlo’s life before and after Tully’s arrival.
There’s more to it than that, and a surprise or two plot-wise that I won’t spoil, but that’s how most of the movie plays out. It’s an unglamorized portrayal of parenting, of aging, and of marriage. It does what most movies fail to by showing the “other” side of these aspect. When most movies try, they play it off for laughs; Tully has some of those, but it’s serious about its subject matter. It wants you to pay attention to it and think about it.
A significant amount of this credit should go to Charlize Theron, who turns in yet another fantastic performance as Marlo. If you can’t empathize with her in this movie, that’s on you; she’s so good that you can feel the tired, stressed-out, done-with-it attitude dripping off her. Mackenzie Davis shows up like a lightning bolt of energy, but reveals a deeper character as the film goes on. The kids are all good, and so are Ron Livingston and Mark Duplass—whose roles are smaller, but still important to the overall story. But make no mistake: It’s Theron’s movie.
I hope we get more movies directed by Jason Reitman, written by Diablo Cody, and starring Charlize Theron. I know we’ve only had two films from this trio, but they’ve both been really solid, and Tully is even better than the first outing. It’s a deep, unglamorous portrayal of parenting, aging, and marriage—focused primarily on motherhood. Cody’s writing keeps getting better, Reitman is almost always a solid director, and Theron adds another fantastic performance to a really long list of them. Tully is great.
Conclusion: Tully is a deep, unglamorous portrayal of parenting, aging, and marriage.
Recommendation: If you want a raw, “real” version of motherhood, check out Tully.