Tully takes a mixed look at motherhood
Marlo (Charlize Theron) isn’t overwhelmed by motherhood; she’s consumed by it. With a nine year-old girl, a five year-old boy with special needs and a newborn, whatever part of her individuality she’s been holding on to has been ground to dust. She does her best to meet her kids’ needs and maintain a semblance of a household for her well-meaning but rather clueless husband, Drew (Ron Livingston), but it’s just too much – so much so that drastic measures must be taken … very drastic measures.
More than anything, Jason Reitman’s and Diablo Cody’s Tully gets the motherhood dilemma. Yes, you want to experience the joy of being a parent, but at times the cost can seem too high. The constant lack of sleep, the fraying of relationships and the loss of self are necessary sacrifices where parenthood is concerned, and all of this is rendered with a remarkable degree of authenticity, which is the film’s strong suit. Theron’s efforts – the gaining of 50 pounds through the constant presence of potato chips and macaroni and cheese – help tremendously in underscoring the toll all this can take.
Where the movie starts to lose its way is in the introduction of the “solution” to all of this – Tully (Mackenzie Davis), a night nanny provided by Marlo’s rich brother, Craig (Mark Duplass). Reluctant to accept this gift, the overwhelmed mom finally summons her would-be savior, and it’s the best move she could make. Tully is the living embodiment of a dream come true and accomplishes plenty while Margo sleeps. She’s young, energetic, enthusiastic, and eager to care for the little one put in her charge. Not only that, but she cleans the house, bakes cupcakes, lends Marlo a sympathetic ear, and provides a few other services that go way above and beyond the call of duty.
There’s something more – maybe less – to Tully than meets the eye, and once the big reveal occurs concerning her background, you’ll either tip your hat to Cody for her ingenuity or feel manipulated. I fell somewhere in between these two responses and couldn’t help but replay the film in my head to see if all of the pieces of the plot fit together. I think they do, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that Reitman and company hadn’t quite played fair.
Cody’s script is an enjoyable piece of writing, containing the sort of witty rejoinders and acerbic comments that made her screenplays for Juno and Young Adult such a delight. Her skewering of today’s isolated upper middle class is particularly effective, as Drew and his trophy wife, Elyse (Elaine Tan), are constantly made to look buffoonish with their embracing of the latest hipster lifestyle trends, obviously to their foolish and isolating nature. The script is at its sharpest in these moments, providing intelligent commentary with genuine humor.
Tully does many things right, and, for the most part, it’s a wry, entertaining ride. The performances are all strong, Reitman keeps things moving at a crisp pace, and the film presents many worthy talking points in an intelligent way. Yet its third act is a make-or-break gambit that will please most and annoy some. Your response will likely depend on your willingness to be led down the garden path. You’ll be surprised – whether it’s pleasantly or not … carpe diem.