Tully is described as “a story about Motherhood in 2018″, starring Charlize Theron as a stretched-thin mother-of-three Marlo. In reality, Tully is about much more than motherhood. All of the movie’s themes can hang their hat on the peg of motherhood, but they are about other things too. Ageing, tolerance, mental health, and interpersonal relationships.
The eponymous character is a 26-year-old jeunne boheme, played by Mackenzie Davis, who slips into Marlo’s vaguely-located upstate New York house bringing with her what feels like a New York City Edge. Tully’s salient details – any other job, her living situation, her family history, is kept secret from both Marlo and the audience. Davis’ performance is enigmatic, and the more intently she stares at Marlo the more intently you do, too. That intensity doesn’t go both ways, though. Tully is solely there for Marlo and therefore, so is the audience.
Tully is something like a guardian angel – or mermaid, given Marlo’s dreams of the creatures. Tully does nice things for Marlo in the middle of the night when everyone is asleep. That’s her job, after all, to “look after the whole” of Marlo. Marlo insists: “her whole hasn’t been taken care of in a while.” Cue laughter.
We get snippets of her brother and her husband, Mark Duplass and Ron Livingston respectively. The characters on their own stood out but trying to recall which face went with which character is difficult. Perhaps this was due to the men’s facial similarities, or that Marlo seemed more at ease with her brother than her husband.
Not a rousing endorsement, but perhaps that’s the point (or the point is that this writer is bad with faces). They aren’t central to the story, they’re merely facilitators. Her brother provides her with a night nanny’s name and is a stand-in for what it means to be ‘successful’ monetarily. Her husband is made conspicuous by his absence, both physically and emotionally, reinforcing Marlo’s frayed edges, and exacting even more empathy from viewers.
To make matters more stressful, Marlo’s middle child Jonah has frequent meltdowns and is sensitive to stimulation, leading the audience to assume he’s somewhere on the autism spectrum. However, he is referred to solely as quirky. Tully gets halfway to expressing the frustration at this ambiguity. “Do I have a kid or a fucking ukelele?” Marlo snaps, but Tully stops short of giving any defining gratification. This, too, might be a point. Things aren’t neatly labelled the way we want them to be. As a viewer, however, you’re left wondering what Marlo actually thinks of her own son. Her eldest, Sarah, seems… fine? Marlo briefly mentions to Tully she’s worried her daughter is becoming insecure and delivers a heavy-handed one-liner about the expectations of girls and women in the world at large.
The relationship between Marlo and her night nanny is the hook of the film. It is intimate, and somehow worrying all at once. “I don’t want some stranger in my house,” Marlo chides initially. But with the presence of Tully in her life Marlo seems to move away from that ‘butter scraped over too much bread’ precipice.
So, yes, Tully is a film about Motherhood in 2018 but it’s a film about a hell of a lot more. Mental health, self-care, relationships, acceptance, jealousy, body image, settling for something, moving on, giving up, embracing, with one hell of a plot twist that, though shocking, is also somehow anticlimactic.
It’s worth seeing for the strength of Theron’s and Davis’ performances. Bits of Tully are magical, bits are laugh-out-loud funny, bits are -finally, happily- brutally honest. But, like Tully said, you can’t treat the parts without treating the whole, and as a whole Tully feels like it’s lacking an undefinable something.
Dir: Jason Reitman
Scr: Diablo Cody
Cast: Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Mark Duplass, Ron Livingstone,
Prd: Diablo Cody, A.J. Dix, Helen Estabrook, Aaron L. Gilbert, Beth Kono, Mason Novick, Jason Reitman, Charlize Theron
DOP: Eric Steelberg
Music: Rob Simonsen
Runtime: 98 mins
Tully is in cinemas 4th May