When I first saw the trailer for Jason Reitman’s Tully, I wasn’t very excited, thinking how I would actively avoid it. I wasn’t hyped to see another drama/comedy hybrid that ‘tells it like it is’ and points out life ‘warts and all’ like so many other shows and movies have been. Being a cynical male in my early 30s, I had very little desire to see a film that I felt would only further convince me that both marriage and family were things that seemed so utterly benign, stressful, and miserable. I decided to see the movie anyway, because the combo of Reitman with writer Diablo Cody and Charlize Theron was too good to resist despite my crabby, self-absorbed pre-conceived notions. Not only was I happy to be completely and totally wrong, but I left the theater with a sense of warmth and love that was wholly unexpected.
Tully offers an unflinching look at the life of an under-rested, over-stressed mother of three, Marlo (Charlize Theron), her loving but checked-out husband Drew (Ron Livingston), and their two children and a newborn daughter. More importantly, it focuses on the unexpected relationship between Marlo and Tully, the new night nanny gifted to her by her rich brother. Tully enters Marlo’s life almost like a youthful, insightful, modern day Mary Poppins. Instantly allowing Marlo some sleep, Tully also teaches Marlo important, forgotten lessons in life such as self-care, peace of mind, and never apologizing for who you are. Tully’s influence on Marlo ends up bleeding into the family, seemingly bringing everyone up to a level of simple happiness that they haven’t had in a while. Not everything is at it ever seems, however, and the film uses it quick-witted script and amazing performances to bring attention to a number of issues, including cooled relationships, special-needs kids, and the wear and tear it takes on a family, particularly the mother.
Charlize Theron is simply incredible as Marlo, having gained 50 pounds for the role of an overworked, under-cared for mother. She wears years of exhaustion on her face, but also exhibits a quick and hilarious tongue that brings out some of the films biggest laughs. Ron Livingston is equally effective as her husband Drew. Drew is a fascinating character in that he is clearly a loving father who makes contributions to the family in the form of work, homework, and other items. However, he’s also shown to be tuned-out, sitting on his video games at night, not realizing that his beloved wife could use an extra effort. It’s a really careful look at how couples can still being loving, caring, and devoted, while still not being their fully for each other’s needs. The relationship between Drew and Marlo and the way it’s depicted is on of the more refreshing parts of a film that could’ve taken an easy road by making Drew a completely asshole. Lastly, Mackenzie Davis plays the titular character of Tully as a breath of fresh air, a whimsical and wise millennial who arrives on Marlo’s doorstep to take care of their newborn at night while Marlo gets her sleep. Needless to say, the relationship between Marlo and Tully is the foundation of the film, and it really goes in some unexpected directions. Even if you think you can guess those directions, I can assure you that you’re most likely wrong.
Jason Reitman has a gift for showing the funny aspects of a mundane life, and he and Diablo Cody make for a dynamic duo of storytelling. Having collaborated first on Juno (which won Cody a Best Screenwriting Oscar), and then again on Young Adult (with Theron), it’s clear that these two share an understand and a language not only about life, but also about women in life, what they have to deal with on a daily basis at various points in their lives. I cannot praise the writing enough, and Reitman’s direction pairs with it so well, never making Tully feel anything more than absolutely authentic. The film, as mentioned above, goes to some really unexpected places, but it never really feels like it betrays what’s come before. Without getting too much into spoilers, let’s just say you might think you know what Tully is about, but it makes a hard turn towards the end that reframes everything you’ve seen before in a different light.
I previously mentioned my cynicism as i approached Tully, and how I was taken aback by certain aspects. As a single bachelor, I still think Tully makes marriage and family look utterly miserable, so I can only imagine what it makes women think who are likewise single. Seeing it with my friend, I got the impression that she agreed with me, but only about 1000 times more so with what a woman’s body goes through before, during, and after pregnancy. But what Tully does so well is show the love and hard work that goes into raising a family, how much a mother has to sacrifice and work on to maintain that family, and how we can all be a little better at helping them out. A day after I saw Tully, I saw my mother again, and even thought Mother’s Day is just around the corner, I felt the need to thank her for being so amazing, know what a headache my existence must’ve been at the beginning (or hell, even in the present sometimes).
It’s also a wonderful reflection on what used to be, the lives we give up as we grow older, get married, and have kids. We all have thoughts, yearning for the past, for what used to be, but many times we can’t act on them. Tully does a really good job of showing people that live their current lives to the fullest, but still have those pains of the past hitting their hearts every now and then, even though they can’t and don’t act on them.
Tully shows that women are warriors, they’re unheralded, under appreciated, and they need help. I think Tully is a movie that everyone in a relationship, with or without kids, should see, because it’s important to remember that we can all do a little more for those around us. It’s filled with amazing performances, wonderful humor, and eye-opening sadness about life that is important to recognize. It’s not a perfect film, as some of the fun twists along the way require a little bit of extra curricular work to make fit, logistically speaking, but it’s still a wonderful film about women, children, family, and how much damn work goes into keeping it all together.
The Final Pop
Tully offers up a very realistic, often tough to experience portrayal of both the miserable aspects of raising a family as well as the joys, beauty, and humor that is found in every day life. A masterful lead performance by Charlize Theron brings a witty, heartbreaking script from Diablo Cody to life under the careful and masterful direction of Jason Reitman. It's not a movie that everyone will enjoy, but it's one that people in all forms of relationships could benefit to seeing at least once.
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