Nutshell: Tully is reality as slap-in-the-face; a film that shows motherhood as exhausting, trying, physically demanding, and maybe even beautiful. A clear-eyed look at what moms can go through, with a twist to the usual “know thyself” story that’ll have you thanking all the wonderful moms you know for being so freakin’ stellar. Grade: A-
“She’ll grow a little overnight. So will we.”
Story: Working mom Marlo is on maternity leave, waiting for her third little one to make the scene. When Marlo’s new daughter arrives, Marlo is exhausted, and can’t seem to keep up with things. So her well-to-do brother offers a gift; a “night nanny” to help Marlo re-adjust (and get some sleep.) But the free spirit that shows up on Marlo’s door isn’t what Marlo expected…
Genre I’d put it in: I Got Your Superwoman Right Here Comedy-Dramas
Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: Original.
Gotta say: I love Diablo Cody’s work. Juno, Young Adult, United States of Tara…Cody has a way of crawling into the headspace of her characters and making you really feel them. And with Tully, you’ll get way in there. In deep. And for the majority of us – those who don’t have kids, or don’t have ’em around on the constant – it’s a revelation.
Because Tully feels real. I remember years ago when my Godson was born, and I headed up to NYC to visit the proud momma. My Significant-Other-Of-The-Moment and I got there, and momma took one look at us, said “OH GOOD YOU’RE HERE I’LL BE” and face-planted onto her bed. This was an incredibly capable woman with a high-powered job at a television network, and yet less than a week of motherhood had thrown her into an exhaustion spiral. She rallied – of course – but I remember her exhaustion, and her relief that more reinforcements had arrived. So many folks, like Marlo in Tully, don’t have that support. Or they don’t have enough support. This film shows exactly how a lack of support can lead to one wiped-out, pushed-to-11 human being.
In Tully, the messy, exhausting work that goes into raising kids is front and center. Marlo can’t get enough sleep with the new baby, and she’s got a school age son and daughter to take care of as well. Add in a son that’s a bit much (he’s not on the spectrum, he’s just a particularly sensitive kid that acts out), and it’s all Marlo can do to keep it together. Most of the time though, together is a fluid thing for her and her family.
I’d no idea that “night nannies” were a thing before this film. But they are. And that sounds like an incredible help. (Plus, I salute every person who holds that job – you truly do the work of the gods, y’all.) As the nanny in question Mackenzie Davis (Halt and Catch Fire) is a wonderful blend of free spirit and dependable caretaker. She handles everything Marlo can’t, and then some. From baking cupcakes to just letting momma get some sleep, Davis’ Tully is an all-purpose guardian angel.
As with Cody and Reitman’s earlier films, there’s a slice-of-life feel that’s a combination of whip-smart dialogue, along with savvy pacing and editing. Plus, the performances from Theron and Davis ring true, as does their onscreen bond. As Marlo’s man-child hubby Drew, Ron Livingston (Office Space) plays the clueless dad who puts on the gamer headphones to block out the world. But while Drew typically doesn’t do much for Marlo and the new baby, he spends time with their daughter, and their scenes are adorable. It’s not so much that Marlo and Drew are distant, but that they never really seemed to sit down and talk about what the other needed. That I walked away from the film with that feeling is a combination of excellent performances and master storytellers at work.
What’s amazing about this film is the no-nonsense way it tackles topics that many won’t discuss. The shame of feeling “not enough”, to be everything to everyone, to bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan. Tully sees those ideas, and tells them to go fuck themselves. And bravo.
Okay, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to tackle the twist in this film, but I’m gonna. Vaguely. Because I think it’s important. But I understand if you don’t want to read, so get off the bus now if you’re going. Still with me? Okay.
The climax of the film sees Tully convince Marlo to head to the city to go have some crazy fun. Have a few drinks, go let off some steam. But things aren’t exactly as they seem, and the harsh light of day shines down, things aren’t what they’d seemed at all. And it’s a brilliant (if not a little M-Night-y) twist that highlights an important issue; mental health. Post-partum depression is serious, and it’s important, but so is the exhaustion and disconnection that can also come with new motherhood. That this film highlights that is worth praise.
#Protip: Yep, that’s all Theron up there; the actress put on 50 pounds for the role. And’t it took her a year and a half to lose it. Now that’s dedication – a tip of the mac-n-cheese mug to you, Ms. Theron.