REVIEW: Tully (2018)

Theatrical Release Poster — Focus Features

The following is a review of Tully — Directed by Jason Reitman.

I think none of us truly understand how hard it is to be a full-time mother, at least not before our friends, close relatives, or ourselves become parents. In a way, full-time mothers are the strongest of us, and sometimes they even exhaust themselves without asking for help — something they absolutely should be able to ask for, just like husbands should be expected to take on more responsibilities than is the norm.

In Jason Reitman’s Tully, which is based on a screenplay from Diablo Cody, Charlize Theron plays Marlo, a struggling mother of two children with a third child on the way, who receives little or no actual support in raising the children from her husband Drew (played by Ron Livingston), who goes to work, comes home, and then plays video games until he falls asleep.

Although her daughter seems to be doing well, Marlo’s son, Jonah, is the source of much distress. Jonah is often described as being ‘quirky,’ which is a polite way of saying that he suffers from a developmental disorder that drains his mother of energy and drives his school to expel him.

While over for dinner at Marlo’s brother’s home, Craig (played by Mark Duplass), Marlo’s wealthy brother, offers to pay for a night nanny to help Marlo get the sleep she needs to stay sane — he just wants his sister to get ‘back to normal’. Although Marlo initially has no interest in accepting Craig’s offer, she eventually becomes so exhausted that she has no choice but to contact the night nanny.

So, one day late at night, Tully (played by Mackenzie Davis), the surprisingly young night nanny, swoops in to save the day in Mary Poppins-like fashion by giving Marlo improved self-esteem, more time on her hands, and time to get the sleep necessary for her to function properly.

You will not be surprised to find out that that isn’t the entire film. Obviously, some kind of drama would have to materialize in this film, and it absolutely does but to detail it entirely would rob you of the experience of watching the film for yourself. Unfortunately, I will have to discuss some spoiler-filled elements of the film as I do have issues with those elements, but I will try to tiptoe around them as much as I can without revealing much, but I digress.

Mackenzie Davis’ character is, for the most part, such a positive influence on Marlo and her family, and I think she is written and designed so elegantly. It is in every move she makes and in every outfit she wears — Tully is a young woman that you feel like you know. She has this effervescent warmth about her that is really charming — which is all thanks to the terrific Mackenzie Davis here — and she has some clear, but very young ideas of what life is — a youthful wisdom, really.

Speaking of true to life characters, Charlize Theron’s character also feels so familiar, and her frustrations are depicted so very well. I really thought Reitman understood how to express how tiring parenthood — and, especially, motherhood — can be, and he makes perfect use of a Charlize Theron performance that is unafraid of being unflattering and which, as a result of this approach, shines and stands tall — Theron is excellent.

Although, yes, the film does present realistically overwhelming distress and parenthood-related frustration, there are some fantastical elements thrown in there. Recurring dreams about mermaids are thrown in there to foreshadow a later plot-point, but, more importantly, Tully somehow has more in common with Fight Club than you would ever expect.

My biggest problem with Tully was with its commonality with the aforementioned Fincher film, as I think the very nature of it, sort of, betrays the type of film that it had been up to that point. Does the commonality work? Sure. Is it earned throughout the story? I would say so, but it still did not sit right with me.

With all of that having been said, while its darker underside — its more unrealistic elements — didn’t work as well for me, I still think that Tully is a remarkable tribute to the trials and tribulations of motherhood that understands the importance of partnership in parenting.

8 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen

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