“Tully” Movie Review


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     Director Jason Reitman is one of those rare two time Academy Award nominated filmmakers who has chosen to ignore the opportunities that likely come from such accolades in the form of big budget studio projects, and instead has continued to do his own thing.  Reitman’s films are indie style dramadies written with an unmistakable wit, but will always be about something important within the human condition.  Be it relationships, loneliness, or regret, the characters in his films are always flawed and may never actually achieve what it is they are looking to do in the end.  Reitman excelled in bringing these types of characters to the screen during each of the first two times he teamed up with screenwriter Diablo Cody, particularly with 2007’s “Juno” which resulted in a Best Picture and Best Director nomination for Reitman and a Best Original Screenplay win for Cody.  Four years later, they joined forces again for “Young Adult”, a take on how the most popular people in high school tend to end up in life, casting Charlize Theron in the lead role and perhaps setting the stage for their latest project.

     “Tully” brings Reitman and Cody together once more, along with their “Young Adult” lead, Charlize Theron, as they take on the complex and exhausting nature of motherhood in today’s America.  And make no mistake, the filmmakers have made a haunting statement on the traditional family, exploring what really occurs behind closed doors that is often masked by those glossy family portraits people post on Facebook that make it seem as though everything in their lives is fabulous when in truth, it is not.  In the most daring fashion possible, “Tully” examines the perceived role of the mother and the father in a household of three young children, one of which is a newborn, and the issues that befall all of us who have embarked on one of the hardest things to do in life when you are attempting to raise kids.  Keeping it all together.

     Anyone who has brought a child into the world knows it’s difficult.  And the events depicted in “Tully” make a strong case for how the ongoing difficulties we face as a child grows older can effect everything from the relationship between the mother and father to the challenges of  maintaining some semblance of sanity.  The characters in “Tully” occupy a firm standing in the middle class, and though money comes up as an issue at times, they are by no means struggling financially.  Perhaps more importantly, the couple in question here is married and their are no signs of an impending divorce or separation.  Sure, they are mired in a rut couples often find themselves in when family life becomes routine, but this isn’t a story about a single mother who is left with the burden of raising her children and having to work for a living as well.  Instead, Reitman and Cody have created characters who society would likely view as being in the best position to succeed, only to show us as the film progresses that things are never that simple.

     When we meet Marlo (Charlize Theron), she is really pregnant, looking as though a trip to the hospital is just days or hours away.  Her husband, Drew (Ron Livingston), has one of those jobs where it’s difficult to explain exactly what he does, but it’s also one that sees him gone out of state for weeks at a time.  This leaves Marlo to take care of their 8 year old daughter, Sarah (Lia Frankland), their 6 year old son, Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica), as well as their newly arrived baby.  And it’s not as if when Drew is home he is attentive to Marlo’s needs either.  Whether he’s at work or home, the primary responsibility of caring for the baby, as well as the other two kids falls squarely on the shoulders of Marlo.  There are also a few important variables here.  First and foremost is Marlo is forty years old and their new baby was a “surprise.”  Second is Jonah is a special needs child, or so they are now being told, since the school administrator has informed Marlo he will not be welcomed back next school year.

     A montage early in the film perfectly demonstrates the difficulties of dealing with the issues surrounding Jonah and Sarah coupled with the needs of a newborn child, as Marlo appears on the brink of complete exhaustion.  When she retires for the night, if Drew is home, he’s already lying in bed playing video games and utterly unreachable with the headset he sports while killing the zombies on the screen.  When the baby wakes and needs to be fed, he’s fast asleep and it’s Marlo who gets up, depriving herself of anything resembling rest only to rise and start the process over each and every morning.  

     That is until she has a conversation with her significantly more well off brother, Craig (Mark Duplass), who offers to hire her a night nanny which he says was a savior for he and his wife when their kids were younger (they actually still have one even though they are older now).  Marlo and Drew have trepidation in allowing a stranger in the home to take care of their newborn, but ultimately Tully (Mackenzie Davis) arrives at their doorstep and seemingly saves the day with her warmth and proficiency in handling the needs of both the baby and Marlo.  She also proves to be a heck of a conversationalist with Marlo, as the two of them contrast and compare their lives, their goals, and their thoughts on what might have been (in Marlo’s case), and what could be (for Tully).

     Theron’s performance is outstanding and there isn’t a moment in this film where you won’t empathize for her and the strain she is experiencing nearly every frustrating minute of the day.  We almost feel uplifted when Tully arrives and takes on the role of the uncredited helper who has a definitive impact in making Marlo look good in the eyes of her family.  Something that is obviously very important to her.  There is, of course, a catch to all of this, and the ramifications of the arrangement certainly take their toll in an unpredictable way, but the story remains heartfelt and poignant throughout, eliciting the kind of emotion only someone who is a mother will truly understand.

     But what struck me the most was the conditions Drew and Marlo provided their family were not bad at all.  Their kids go to good schools.  They live in a nice home and neighborhood.  And yet this traditional family unit still struggles with day to day life and the curveballs that come with it.  Go figure.  At some point, we were programmed to believe the traditional family unit being intact, along with a stable income and home, will ease the difficulties you face as a parent, which is, of course, completely untrue.  Throw in a divorce (or two) and then watch as things get really interesting!  If “Tully” teaches us anything, it’s you will never really be prepared for the kind of responsibility a child will bring into your life, but one way or another you’ll get through it.  You have no other choice.  GRADE: B+