Director Jason Reitman, and screenwriter Diablo Cody, who previously collaborated on Juno and Young Adult, have re-teamed again for Tully, a curious comedy-drama about motherhood. However, while this new film features both pregnancy (as Juno did) and Charlize Theron (as Young Adult did), Tully is the weakest Reitman-Cody film, in part because it traverses similar territory of the earlier films without having much new to say.
Marlo (Theron) is nine months pregnant with her third child and suitably exhausted. She already has some difficulty with her son Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica) who appears to be on the autism spectrum but is frequently described as “quirky.” Marlo’s feelings of being overwhelmed are palpable from Theron’s pricelessly funny expressions and exaggerated body language.
But Cody’s script, full of her patented too-clever dialogue, never seems as real as Marlo’s post-partum depression. Marlo’s smartass remarks and even cruel comments seem to emphasize her physical fatigue and mental exasperation but these lines—even when they are funny—make her more pathetic than sympathetic.
One evening, Tully (Mackenzie Davis), a night nanny hired by Marlo’s brother Craig (Mark Duplass) arrives. Marlo gets some much-needed relief and sleeps through the night while Tully cares for her baby. It seems strange that Marlo and her husband, Drew (Ron Livingston) don’t meet Tully and discuss the arrangement first, but things work out quite well that night. In fact, Tully seems too good to be true. Marlo’s kids even ask, “Why is the house so clean?”
Tully is wonderful, taking care of Marlo as well as her child. The two women talk about Marlo’s kids and Marlo’s dreams over glasses of Sangria—a strange drink for a nursing mother. They even discuss Drew’s sexual fantasies, which leads to an unbelievable sequence in which Tully, in a waitress uniform, seduces Drew with Marlo egging her on.
Obviously, something is not quite right with Tully, and something is also not quite right with Tully, either. There are too many head-scratching moments that will pull viewers out of the action.
Part of the problem is that as Marlo makes some very bad decisions—from having a meltdown at Jonas’ school to going out drinking with Tully—she becomes increasingly more unlikable. Watching Marlo try to outpace a younger jogger may be amusing—and Theron sells the scene—but this metaphor for youth literally passing one by, is ultimately too on the nose.
Arguably, one of the best scenes in the film has a teacher calming Jonas down by acting kindly to the young boy who is acting out. Tully is at times about kindness, but it is also about a lack of caring. The film eventually provides a valid explanation for some of the strange behavior on display. Viewers who find the reveal unsatisfying will likely sour on the film. Moreover, the pat way it places blame for what happens seems to be small comfort for a larger problem.
Tully seems so focused on its twist that it weakens its actual point.
Tully opens in Philly area theaters today.
Author: Gary M. Kramer
Gary M. Kramer is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer. He is the co-editor of Directory of World Cinema: Argentina. Volumes 1 and 2, and teaches seminars at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer.