Michael Potts | 23/04/2018
The latest outing by director Jason Reitman, Tully takes a step beyond the pregnancy tale of Juno to look at motherhood, and in doing so crafts a tale that is in many ways wondrous without feeling any less real.
Tully follows Marlo (Charlize Theron), initially mother of two, and then very quickly three children, as she navigates the daily grind of parenting, caring for a newborn and maintaining her marriage. It quickly becomes clear just how much strain Marlo is under, as well as how little everyone around her seems to understand her situation, much less help her. Pressure builds until, at her brother’s insistence, she contacts a night nanny, a young, energetic and free-spirited woman named Tully, for help. While initially uncomfortable with Tully’s manner, the nanny transforms Marlo’s situation and the two quickly become close. Further hardship is never far away, however.
If Tully is remembered for anything, it should be the performance of Charlize Theron. From her we see the full emotional gamut, even to some extremes, but never does it feel unnatural. Theron should be applauded not simply for crafting an interesting and entertaining character, but for portraying a real human being, one pushed to her wits end and struggling to hold everything together. There is nothing particularly grand about Marlo as a person, but in that she is endlessly relatable and Theron carries this deftly and oftentimes powerfully, without a bad scene in sight.
Tully’s portrayal of motherhood is striking. It contrasts the highs and lows and shows it for what it is; a lot of hard work and, unlike an employed job, there is no clock-off time. The physical and psychological toll of raising children and caring for a baby are front and centre, but, just as interestingly, so are the other sacrifices inherent in having kids. In her late night talks with Tully, Marlo reveals what she had to give up to be a mother. There is no advocacy, as such, for one way or the other, rather the film seeks to show the bittersweet truth (for most people); you can’t have it all. The one criticism, without revealing anything, is that the climax of the film is something of a stretch. While it doesn’t undo all the other good work, it is unnecessary dramatisation that weakens the denouement.
Tully does not balk at showing the gendered disparity in parenthood. Marlo’s husband, Drew, helps out and is never shown to be the ‘bad guy’, as such. However, the responsibilities he takes on are never enough to deny him outlets. He is able to lay down and play video games at night, and while he works full-time this also gives him time away from the home, all the while being oblivious to his wife’s struggles. Marlo is never off-duty in the home and it becomes clear that one is giving more than the other in actually managing the family.
Apart from Theron, the remainder of the cast also put in commendable performances, in particular Ron Livingston as Drew, and Mackenzie Davis providing a good deal of fun as the eponymous Tully, who is a great companion and foil for Marlo. Asher Miles Fallica also deserves special mention for providing a strong performance as Marlo’s young, behaviourally challenged son, Jonah. Jonah is in many ways a lynchpin character, being the source of much of Marlo’s stress and Fallica carries the role well for someone his age.
Tully is far more drama than comedy compared to many of its predecessors in the Reitman catalogue, and this is a wise choice. There is no shortage of humour in the film, but unlike Thank You for Smoking or Juno it never dominates a scene. Instead jokes are often used to show the disconnect between Marlo and others, and conversely her closeness with Tully. There is a healthy balance in tone, strengthening the film’s emotional impact. It is a joy to watch.
Tully is as meaningful as it is entertaining, combining a stellar lead performance with a thoughtful central focus that may just make you appreciate your own mother a little more. Perfect in time for Mother’s Day.