The “Young Adult” is one of, if not my favorite comedy ever. There’s something so bitingly familiar about everything touched upon in that movie that makes the laughs hurt just as much as they make you cackle. The pairing of director Jason Reitman, writer Diablo Cody and star Charlize Theron made for perhaps one of the most well-rounded dark comedies the world has ever seen. When it was announced that the three would team up for another film, my immediate thought went to that they were producing “Young Adult 2,” which ended up not being the case. In lieu, we got “Tully,” a film that I almost resented for not being “Young Adult 2,” but when you have a team as talented as this behind a film, how can one resist?
And it’s certainly a sight to behold. Not as bruising as “Young Adult,” but touching enough to last with you forever.
Marlo (Charlize Theron) is a pregnant mother of two in her last month of pregnancy before her third child arrives with her lethargic husband, Drew (Ron Livingston). Her oldest daughter, Sarah (Lia Frankland) is entering the age where she is beginning to struggle with self-esteem, while her younger son, Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica) suffers from behavioral problems that cause problems with his private school. Tully receives much of the niceties in her life from her affluent brother, Craig (Mark Duplass). Despite this, Marlo suffers from severe post-partum depression from the frenzied stress of being a mother, which worsens when her newborn daughter, Mia, arrives. As a gift, Craig gifts Marlo a night nanny to watch the baby come nighttime to allow her to rest, to which Marlo refuses for the first bit of Mia’s life, but when her life hits a wall, she caves in, and Tully (Mackenzie Davis) arrives at her door to help her. Strange at first, Marlo begins to open up to Tully, and the relationship they form is one that simply can’t be formed from a simple friendship.
“Tully” is a film that’s heartwarming and adorable, but like the previous collaboration between the three commodities of the film hits all the emotional cues one would expect from the team that brought you “Young Adult.” This is a film that has many laughs, many cringe-worthy scenes of emotional levity, and some truly cuddly moments of real vulnerability that make this film one of the most touching films about domestic life in a very long time.
Theron, as per usual, is continuing to prove herself as perhaps the finest actress of her generation. While her physical transformation is what you might first notice in “Tully,” it’s her emotional change that carries the film to new heights. Lethargic, desperate and at her wit’s end, this is not the situation one might expect a character played by Theron to be in. There’s a rawness to Theron in the film, that, even when she begins to let loose after Tully’s arrival, is still down-to-earth and remarkably dynamic. Davis is also a powerhouse in the film too, but operating on the complete opposite spectrum as Theron. Tully is the antithesis to Marlo, bright and airy, willing to help out in any way she can. She’s the help everyone wants, and the friend everyone needs. The pureness to her character is a breath of fresh air for the sometimes bitingly cynical writing of Cody that really gives the film a levity you might not get with any other actress. Supporting performances from Duplass and Livingston are also really great, and surprisingly different for the actors, as, in a typical film, their roles would likely be switched, but here, it works wondrously.
Reitman is a burgeoning king of the quiet indie comedy. Far from the genre of Mumblecore, there’s a realness to his films that don’t require any pretension to get its point across. “Tully” isn’t quirky because it has to be, and one could even argue that the uniqueness of “Tully” isn’t quirkiness at all, but it’s simply a story of a relationship never explored before. “Tully” doesn’t have to try to engage you, because it’s an engaging story on its own merits. The synthesis between Reitman and Cody is as palpable as ever and it really shows the dynamic pairing they have together, and working with Theron turns them into a Hollywood dream team.
One might think that any film starring Theron is already setting up an unrealistic expectation of female beauty, but there’s a decided ugliness about “Tully” that’s really resonant. Not with Theron’s appearance, however tired and “normal” she might look, but the mundanity of it all creates an atmosphere that makes you believe in the world presented here. It’s written from a perspective that only a writer that’s a mother could understand. There’s a realness to it all that, despite Marlo’s distance connection to wealth that offers her the chance to experience a night nanny, you never get the idea that she ever expects anything from it, actively shunning the idea at first. There’s a really powerful message of not being afraid to ask for help when you need it, and while not everyone will have access to a night nanny, there’s a message that a support system of any kind, especially come the film’s wondrous final act, is what one should seek out.
“Tully” is absolutely fantastic. It’s real and raw, vulnerable and funny, bruising and heartwarming, and everything in between. Reitman, Cody, and Theron have all struck gold again in a much different, yet entirely appreciated way. This is a film about the trials and tribulations of not only motherhood, but sisterhood through strife. While starting as hired help, Tully morphs into Marlo’s housekeeper, chef, therapist, confidante and best friend in a way that never feels like something to be pitied like “The Help,” but that their relationship is symbiotic in all the ways they differ from one another. This is a beautifully restrained film that showcases the best that everyone involved has to offer, and then some. You come into “Tully” expecting one thing, and while expectations will give you that one thing, it’s hit in the first act, the rest of the film will grant you something your heart won’t forget.
Directed by: Jason Reitman
Starring: Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Mark Duplass, and Ron Livingston.
Runtime: 95 minutes
Rating: R for language and some sexuality/nudity.
Now playing in select Charlotte-area theaters.
Focus Features presents, a Bron Studios/Right of Way Films/Denver and Delilah/West Egg production, in association with Creative Wealth Media, a film by Jason Reitman, “Tully”