The week after AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR and the movie I’m looking forward to the most is a low-key movie about motherhood. Go figure.
The story looks like it’s about a mother and her family, and she is stressed out like it’s no one’s business. Her husband then comes up with the idea to hire a night nanny that will take care of the baby while the parents sleep, and it looks like the two ladies get a friendship going.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Charlize Theron (GRINGO , F8 OF THE FURIOUS , KUBO , FURY ROAD , and the upcoming FLARSKY ), Mackenzie Davis (BLADE RUNNER 2049 , THE MARTIAN , and upcoming films THE TURNING  and TERMINATOR ), Ron Livingston (LUCKY , 5TH WAVE , VACATION , and THE CONJURING ).
Now for the crew. Directing, we have Jason Reitman, known for YOUNG ADULT (2011), JUNO (2007), and the upcoming THE FRONT RUNNER (2018). Penning the screenplay is Diablo Cody, known for RICKI AND THE FLASH (2015), and the upcoming BARBIE (2020). Composing the score is Rob Simonsen, known for LOVE, SIMON (2018), GIFTED (2017), NERVE (2016), BURNT (2015), and the upcoming CAPTIVE STATE (2019). The cinematographer is Eric Steelberg, known for BAYWATCH (2017) and the upcoming THE FRONT RUNNER. Finally, the editor is Stefan Grube, known for 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016).
Overall, I think this is going to be good. Cody is one of the very few screenwriters that I instantly know, mostly because her name is so damn awesome. But I have to admit, she’s a hit or miss in terms of her writing. Of course, JUNO is a classic of the new millennium, and I really enjoyed YOUNG ADULT, but JENNIFER’S BODY was… hot, but not that good, and RICKI was certainly a forgettable film. But, this movie has Theron, whom I’m an avid fan of, and Davis, whom I am slowly developing a crush on, so I say this movie’s going to be enjoyable enough.
This is my honest opinion of: TULLY
Set in New York. Marlo (Charlize Theron) is a loving wife to Drew (Ron Livingston) and mother of three: a daughter, a quirky son, and a newborn daughter. However, she is completely stressed out and in over head and succumbs to the idea that she needs help. Taking advice from her brother Craig (Mark Duplass), she is convinced to hire a night nanny: someone who will take care of the infant baby while the parents get some rest. In comes Tully (Mackenzie Davis), a quirky twenty-six year old woman who does an effectively good job at caring for the baby and soon, the two women strike up a friendship as Marlo enjoys her newfound sense of liveliness.
“An ode to motherhood”? I don’t know why this quote was chosen to be featured in the trailer, but I don’t think that’s really what this movie was. Oh before I go further, I like it. I don’t love it, but I like it.
I promise I won’t hang my entire review on this one critic’s quote who likely didn’t choose it to be featured, but I really want to address this single sentence as it bothers me. I mean, it is about motherhood, but that’s like saying SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994) is about two prisoners that become friends. Yes, that is certainly something that happens, and it’s a healthy chunk of what it’s about, but it’s so much more than a “buddy-prisoner” movie to the point where that’s not the case at all. I think of it as… an ode to acknowledging your adulthood and new life. I’ll get to this later, but for now, bad one second of advertising. Most of the stuff worth talking about will be talked about in the spoiler section, so for now, I’ll keep it spoiler-free.
The acting is perfectly on point. Theron really gets down the struggles of a mother with young kids and one of them borderlining on special needs. There is a welcomed mix of stress, but also light-hearted fun and joy. Far too often, lesser movies that try and tackle this subject matter show motherhood as nothing but struggle and lack of appreciation, only to be shown that it’s a joyous thing by the end. Thing is, I feel like this movie does it much better, showing the highs and lows. Marlo is stressed, but she’s not overly unhappy. It’s a complex jumble of emotions, but it’s honest and mostly realistic. One scene irked the crap out of me, but that for another paragraph. On the flipside, Davis does extraordinarily well too. While she certainly has that wild side of drinking and nearly hyper happiness, she never goes too far with it and keeps her focus on the baby that she’s supposed to take care of. She can be a bit of a weirdo, sitting patiently, watching as Marlo nurses her infant daughter… in the bedroom, but hey, this is easily explained later. She is highly mature for her age, wise beyond her years, supportive, generous, she’s incredibly likable.
One of the first problems that I found with the movie was the writing. This is a smaller problem as it was really just one scene, and that’s the dinner scene between Marlo and Craig. I don’t know, there’s something about Craig’s wife, Elyse (Elaine Tan) that seemed unnaturally unlikable in the way that she spoke to Marlo. I can’t quote anything, sadly, but I remember a very air-headed way that she spoke to her about their son Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica). I don’t know, for a character that was otherwise presented as a good-natured person, this seemed a little too mean-spirited. I guess sometimes people do say dumb things once in awhile without meaning to say anything hurtful, but I don’t know, pregnant woman are highly hormonal. One would think you’d naturally watch the things you say lest you suffer a pregnant woman’s wrath.
Not gonna lie, I don’t get the mermaid visuals. I mean, don’t me wrong, I give props to the fact that this effect is the best live-action mermaid I’ve ever seen on film, but… I keep coming back to Iliza Shlesinger’s jokes about grown women not wishing they were mermaids. Is this a true negative because I’m making that comparison? Not to the degree I’m making it out to be, but I still don’t really get it, and it crops up a couple times in the movie. If it was just a one-off throwaway visual, I might be less confused by it, but it’s just an out there visual that doesn’t quite fit the narrative from where I’m sitting. Maybe it has deeper meaning than I give it credit for, but it’s still an odd addition.
Not that this is a true negative toward the film, but I totally called it early on that Tully wasn’t real. So there was an air of predictability. Sorry, Cody, I think you’re a great writer, but… I’ve seen FIGHT CLUB and MIDDLE SCHOOL: THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE. I’ve caught on to these tricks. Tully doesn’t interact with anyone other than Marlo, and the one time that she interacts with Drew, it’s so awkward and unnaturally reacted that it was sort of obvious. No husband would truly be okay with having sex with another woman, no matter how attractive, if he didn’t intimately know her, nor would a wife be okay with letting her have her husband for exactly the same reasons, and there wasn’t a previously established mutual “okayness” between the three of them. Instead, it’s spontaneous for no reason, so whatever doubts I had with my prophesizing before, they were only cemented right there and then, or this scene would have been wholly unnatural in every way.
Having said all that, I like what Cody did with this. Even if a killjoy movie-prophet like myself could see this twist coming from a mile away, I can definitely appreciate what Tully represents in the story. It’s basically an extreme case of talking to one’s self. I do this as well because I’m an only child (it’s keeps it from being too quiet when I’m alone), but I totally get it. My interpretation is that her younger self was certainly a party girl, but there was always that future aspiration to become a mother and wife and mother. But now that she’s arrived at that dream, she misses her youth of careless fun, likely because one of her kids is an unpredictable handful and needs special care that she has to go out of her way to provide and not something that the school can, and now she’s got herself an unplanned infant, constantly working to keep them all provided for and going to school on time. Tully was “created” to convince her that being a mother is still what she wants to be. Not that she has thoughts of running away or abandoning her family, or anything of that nature, but she does need that reassurance that this is where her life was supposed to end up and that she’s strong enough to handle it. So after the questionable choice of drinking and driving, saying goodbye to Tully does feel like a justifiably emotional moment as Marlo comes to grips with her life and new situation.
Also, I’m a little peeved at myself. Before seeing this movie, I swear, I predicted that Tully wasn’t real. In the trailer, she’s never shown to interact with anyone but Marlo. Granted, I wasn’t entirely serious, making a half joke, I suppose, but I really wish that I put down my prediction in my initial impressions and then take a moment for self-absorption and call myself a film prophet, but if I didn’t put it down before, I can’t make the claim now. Too bad, so sad.
Overall, I think this is a pretty good movie. Great performances by the two leads and the supporting cast, especially Livingston, a great story with a pretty fresh take on its message, all culminating into something that keeps your eyes glued to the screen. Maybe there’s a few moments that are either odd or don’t seem as realistic as the movie thinks, but it’s not enough to hurt the film as a whole and most may not have a problem with them as I did. So as a recommendation, I highly recommend it. If you like more low-key stories about everyday life, then this is well-worth the price of admission. I wouldn’t mind seeing this movie again. Maybe I wouldn’t own it on Blu-Ray, but I’d love to rent it to relive it in the future. Beautiful, insightful, honest, and makes you want to hug your mom for all you put her through.
My honest rating for TULLY: a strong 4/5