MOVIE REVIEW: Tully
TULLY-- 4 STARS
Academy Award-winning writer Diablo Cody has an unparalleled gift for the sardonic. Her style of comedic talk avoids the usual R-rated low-hanging fruit of gross-out gags and empty schtick. Instead, she knows just the right rhythm of mockery and skepticism to twist mundane circumstances into something both witty and affecting. When combined with director Jason Reitman and his sensibilities wired to much the same wavelength, the results are gleefully glorious. Look no further than Juno and Young Adult.
LESSON #1: WHEN TO JOKE AND NOT JOKE-- With their latest collaboration Tully, the writer-and-director duo have done it again. This dramedy is chock full of literal and nonliteral humor with brilliant choices of phrasing and timing. Truths in this movie can be flipped like pancakes on a hot griddle and topped by a drizzle of syrup made with quite an infused kick.
Plodding through the fatigue of maternity with their signature staccato sarcasm, Reitman and Cody thrust heaping honesty and, more importantly, heart higher than any possible pile of overdue laundry or unwashed dishes. Led by an immediately Oscar-worthy performance by a transfigured Charlize Theron, Tully builds its banter and finishes with unexpected life-affirming zeal. You’ve just found your Mother’s Day movie excursion with the matriarch in your life.
In a polar opposite performance compared to the petulance of Young Adult, the soon-to-be-43-year-old Theron gained 50 pounds and a bout with actual depression to play Marlo, an overmatched middle class parent at the center of this story. Juggling kids and schedules late-term into her third pregnancy, everything is uncomfortable and everything is an absolute chore. She gets little to no help from her comfortably unaware husband Drew (Ron Livingston), the breadwinner who comes home to plug into video games instead of familial needs.
LESSON #2: THE CODE WORDS FOR UNPLANNED PREGNANCIES-- Saying “unwanted” is too far, but not all pregnancies are countdowns to bliss. Some are descents in unexpected terror. When you hear the terms “such a blessing” and “little miracle,” look for a poker face of dread to follow. If you see one, you have your gossipy suspicions answered.
Marlo’s stresses to accomplish her parenting duties are multiplied by her son Jonah’s (newcomer Asher Miles Fallica) undiagnosed and unregulated sensory processing disorder. His school cannot properly serve him and demands the family pay for a 1:1 aide, which they can’t afford. Handled all the wrong ways by both sides, the resulting contentious blow-up feels like the final backbreaker for Marlo. Overshooting with money and frivolousness, Marlo’s more successful and entirely douche-y brother Craig (Mark Duplass, perfectly cast) and his privileged granola trophy wife Elyse (Elaine Tan of Inherent Vice) offer, as a baby gift, to pay for a night nanny service to help out his sister with the new baby and the housework.
That help (after an overly long lead-up) manifests itself as Tully, a plucky and ever-smiling hipster played by Mackenzie Davis (recently seen in Blade Runner 2049). Tully’s nocturnal energy and child care expertise give Marlo much-needed relief. Meanwhile, her free spirit nature and invigorating insight inspires Marlo to reclaim her feminine sashay and motherly confidence. With help, Marlo’s glow returns with newfangled brightness.
LESSON #3: THE BENEFITS OF OUTSIDE CARETAKERS-- Marlo initially judges the idea of a nanny service with a self-consciousness for people, particularly unvetted strangers, doing things for you, especially the care of children. For her, it’s about being allowing yourself to relinquish control to entertaining notions that normally wouldn’t be considered to better stabilize the challenges of your life. Daycare-using parents will tell you a little help goes a long way and the right person taking care of the littles ones you hold most dear is priceless.
As the deliverer of the script’s zingers and the victim of the womanly wringer she is put through, Charlize Theron commands the screen and awes us on so many levels. Her exhaling grimaces, her wry smirks, her stupefied pauses, and her swerves of outburst all speak volumes of performance. Unflinching with the ugly elements of veracity yet still flickering with her natural beauty, Theron exudes personality even in this character of tailspinning despair. Not since Niki Caro’s North Country from 2005 have we seen Theron in a true mom role, but this is one for the ages and the “best” movie mother lists. Combined with Cody and Reitman, this triumvirate of mentor, muse, and artist might be one of the best ever assembled. They bring out the best in each other.
LESSON #4: THE INESCAPABLE AND EXHAUSTING ROUTINE OF MOTHERHOOD-- People who don’t have kids will not fully understand or believe the dire straits and stresses of this dramatized film that dabbles with the fanciful. The absolute non-glamourous rawness of motherhood on display with little restraint or quarter for the prudish. Tully presents Marlo having fleeting visions of drowning complete with mermaid symbolism. That pairing of survival vs. beauty is an appropriate allegory to hide underlying strength. Through all of what they do, moms are going to be OK. They really are.