Director: Jason Reitman
Cast: Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Ron Livingston, Mark Duplass
Plot: Exhausted mother of three (Theron) hires a night nanny (Davis) to help her with her new-born, but the mysteriously helpful nanny might have further reaching effects on her family life.
In Jason Reitman’s latest film, the depiction of pregnancy and motherhood has to be some of the grittiest yet funniest readings in all of cinematic history. Reitman examines the life of Marlo, struggling under the weight of being a mother. The father, Ron Livingston, has a stressful job that requires him to work long hours and while he isn’t always physically distant, definitely feels apart from the rest of the family unit. Amusingly, while Marlo toils away downstairs, Livingston can be found plugged into his Xbox, playing video games into the late of the night. Marlo is left to raise the kids by herself. The eldest is a young girl entering the tricky waters of teenage womanhood. And the youngest is a “quirky” boy, whose meltdowns and dependency on routine is causing his school to panic, heavily hinting he should be sent elsewhere. And what is worse is that baby number three is due any day now, Marlo waddling around the house with exhaustion, apprehension and anger too tired to unleash itself. Reitman has fun with the ordinary, depicting Marlo’s life with black comedy that never wanders into the absurd. The jokes are funny, because they are grounded in things that might actually happen. A montage of Theron looking after the new-born, stepping on stray pieces of LEGO day after day is the kind of humour that will get several knowing chuckles. And the kids deliver the perfect accidental punch-to-the-face with a few of their lines. When Marlo isn’t finally having a breakdown in school and letting everyone know what she thinks of them, she is drifting through the misery with a sense of duty. It is hard to imagine the role being quite as funny without incredible Charlize Theron in the role. Even without taking her acting into account, the lengths Theron must have gone to, in order to make her body fighting fit for Atomic Blonde one second and then pile on the pounds for the desired pregnancy weight scream dedication to the character. However, in terms of the actual acting, Theron is equally remarkable. The beauty of Theron’s Marlo is that, even when she is at her worst, blindly wandering around the house half-asleep, Theron still gives us the shell of the likeable woman underneath. It isn’t too hard to see the Marlo that existed before the children, as Theron easily handles the razor-sharp wit that we are often gifted with when Diablo Cody is on script-writing duties. Her sarcastic insults are funny, but she delivers them with such a tired, cranky tone that she accidentally offends. It seems like a minor character quirk, but these small amusing flourishes build up Marlo to be a character that we support and get behind. We want to see her do well.
After the plot has finished scaring everyone off of having kids, it moves onto the second act and where the story really takes off. Egged on by her brother’s insistence and the fact she is barely holding it together, Marlo hires a night nanny, a helper who stays in the house overnight and looks after the baby, so Marlo can get a full night’s sleep. At first, the movie plays on the fact that the very idea of a night nanny sounds terrifying. While Marlo sleeps upstairs, a stranger is bonding with her child. Mackenzie Davis’ night nanny, called Tully as the name of the film suggests, is also strangely confident, arriving at the doorstep like a knight in shining armour. She is almost too forward, pushing herself into Marlo’s routine and firing off factoids like Siri on the iPhone. One of the best scenes has to be the sheer awkwardness of Davis waking Theron in the middle of the night, so she can breast-feed her child, and then to sit back and watch, with a fascinated look on her face. Both Davis and Theron sell this moment without any words, simply their facial expressions. The entrie set-up is beautifully absurd, yet still grounded in that realism that really makes Tully so cutting edge. However, after the shock of this stranger in the house doing the dishes and taking care of the kids is, Tully evolves into a character piece about two girls building up a strange relationship. Marlo finds Tully easy to talk to and before long, the nanny isn’t just looking after the baby, but fixing Marlo’s broken life too. This is where you almost expect the script to go down a certain route. There are moments that hint at similar set-ups like Girl, Interrupted, where slowly the younger woman moves into the main character’s life. You expect a serial killer backstory to open up at any given moment. One particular scene, which will likely have most of the audience excitedly talking about it, screams that there is something richer going on in the background. However, as one might expect with a Diablo Cody script, proceedings are a tad more careful than that. The truth is Tully is a story about two women interacting and the effects that has on their lives.
Until it’s not. There is one narrative blemish thrown in at the end that fouls up this reading somewhat. A character trait is pulled out of the hat about one of the main players in the text that both makes Tully smarter and dumber at the same time. On one hand, as far as twists go, it is a zinger. You want to instantly go back through Tully and see if the clues were there from the start. A quick scan of my memory suggests that they were. It definitely lifts Tully into one of the more exciting Reitman productions. However, at the same time, was it needed? Was Tully not fine just being a simple movie about a struggling mother building up an intimate friendship with a younger woman and exploring how each character evolved? As fun as the ending of the movie was, perhaps it really suggests a misplaced lack of confidence from Reitman in the final hour…
Final Verdict: Tully is a remarkable movie, performed excellently by both Theron and Davis, that explores an odd set-up and the amusement of that reality.