Kids can be monsters. It’s a hidden truth and one that parents won’t admit too, but I’ve seen enough horror movies to know that kids aren’t the sweet little angels we expect them to be. (I.e. “IT,” “Annabelle: Creation,” “We Need to Talk About Kevin”) Jason Reitman’s “Tully” examines that unique struggle that children can bring to someone’s life, specifically a mother's life. As we meet Marlo (Charlize Theron), an overweight, exhausted, and struggling mother whose husband seems to be absent of blame. She has three kids: an eight-year-old, a six-year-old, and a newborn infant, and she is in need of much-deserved help.
Before the new baby is born though, we see the everyday struggle that is already present. Watching Marlo (Charlize Theron) wake up, slugging her feet around, then attempting to dress her children. Screaming, kicking, and tears ensue as the morning never goes in the direction it needs too, and the husband is at work, so he doesn’t have to deal with all of this drama, right?
At one point after the new baby has arrived, the brother states how he feels Marlo (Charlize Theron) seems to have been doing on this on her own. Buried in her exhaustion, she takes her brother’s advice and reaches out for a night nanny, a young woman who takes care of the newborn and the household overnight, while the mom gets to catch up on some sleep.
This young assistant is named Tully (Mackenzie Davis), a bright, petitie, free spirited, and charming young lady. She’s open minded and never judges, even catching Marlo (Charlize Theron) watching a show called “Gigolos” (a show about male prostitutes helping women; sexually) at one point, and instead of judging or making fun of her, she merely asks questions. Calmly attempting to understand her reasoning behind watching this show, and even asking about her and her husband’s sex life.
“I am here to help you” is what Tully (Mackenzie Davis) states when she first arrives, and it's sequences like the one I described above that exemplifies that, and Davis’ charm cannot go unnoticed. She is effortlessly calm and charismatic and shares genuine chemistry with Theron right off the bat, manifesting a compelling, entertaining, and joyous relationship. A relationship that would not be that euphoric release of joy if the first thirty minutes of “Tully” didn’t showcase the hardships of motherhood.
It’s exceptional screenwriting that allows for the story to gain some effortlessly resonating emotions upon Tully’s (Mackenzie Davis) introduction, as Diablo Cody reunites with Jason Reitman for this third collaboration ( “Juno” & “Young Adult”) to provide a snarky and wry depiction of motherhood. Not only showcasing the hardships but the emotional casualties that stem from it in that of a mother losing her identity, questioning “Who am I? If I’m not a mother.” Becoming a character study of Marlo (Charlize Theron), "Tully" becomes an emotional reflection with poignant messages resolving around self-care, self-love, and self-identity. Necessary traits for any healthy person, and ones that make for potent moments throughout “Tully.”
Reitman provides a naturalistic and California favoring visuality to the film that echoes to “Edge of Seventeen” and “Thirteen Reasons Why” in which the cinematography reflects the sun rises and wealthy suburbs of California. It’s a visual language that echoes authenticity far more than originality, which was a wise choice by Reitman because it places the story front and center for the world to see.
The problems that arise with “Tully” derive from that story though, we study a mother’s faults and her inability to care about herself, but Cody seems to forget that raising children usually involves two people, not one. The father, Drew (Ron Livingston), is the income bringer who’s allowed to complain about frozen pizzas and merely ignores his wife’s exhaustion. He cares about cost, and his opinions seem to matter more than hers at times, but more importantly, the flaws he has as a father are never examined. Instead, the responsibility is placed entirely on the mother, and the father deserves sexual release so that he can work hard and continue to ignore his kids, and more importantly his wife.
A woman whose life no longer belongs to her, Marlo (Charlize Theron) is our sole focus, but when she takes a night out with Tully (Mackenzie Davis), a third act revelation occurs in the story that seems more like a scapegoat than a clever twist. The story was building to a legitimate confrontation that would have led to a husband and a wife having to solve their inconsistencies as parents, as well as Marlo (Charlize Theron) having to confront herself. The twist refutes both of those notions and attempts to craft a tragedy into this story that is not near as emotionally compelling as the latter option. Contradicting its bright authenticity, "Tully" forces you to reanalyze the film, and there are multiple steps of the film that I can retrace and question and conclude that the twist makes them seem improbable. It’s a twist that like “Phantom Thread,” seems to bring the film down more than a few notches single-handedly.
Despite “Tully” having an exceptional first act that carries over into an emotionally delicate second act, Reitman, and Cody attempt to be more clever than they need to be. Trying to be more special than they should, they force “Tully” to become a film that narratively challenges with its storytelling instead of its emotion. “Tully” is a good film that is an excellent example as to why writing is essential to great filmmaking, as Cody, by her own hand, chooses to ignore the husband's failures and struggles to remain focused on telling her story. Motherhood is hard, but Marlo (Charlize Theron) isn’t raising these kids alone, right?