Tully is directed by Jason Reitman and written by Diablo Cody. The film stars Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Mark Duplass, and Ron Livingston.
Marlo and her husband Drew have two children which are a handful, and are expecting their third. As a baby shower present of sorts, Marlo’s brother offers to pay for a “night nanny” to help out with the new baby. While initially apprehensive to the idea, Marlo eventually gives in, with Tully coming to aid and assist with not only the baby, but many aspects of Marlo’s life, helping her to feel at ease and balance her life in the midst of the chaos of raising children. But will things remain stable, or will it all come crashing down at the most unexpected time?
Tully is yet another collaboration from the team of Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman (son of Ivan Reitman), who are probably best known for the film Juno back in 2007. Tully gives an unflinching look at the struggle of modern day motherhood, which is sure to hit close to home for any woman who’s ever had or raised children, even if it falters in its other characters and subplots, and goes off the deep end (figuratively and literally) in its third act.
Not enough positive things can be said about Charlize Theron’s performance as Marlo. She isn’t a radiant beauty queen who lives a glamourous life. She looks disheveled. She has constant torment from a (presumably autistic) son who is put off by the slightest disturbance. She and her husband live in the shadow of her far more successful brother. Her husband would rather play video games in bed than share intimate time. In a handful of scenes and montages, she absolutely nails this part, and it’s thanks to her portrayal of Marlo that many aspects of this movie hit close to home. The supporting cast, including Mackenzie Davis as the titular night nanny, also impresses, and the two have a genuine chemistry in the scenes they share.
The problem with Tully, however, is the same problem I had with Kenneth Branagh in the 2017 version of Murder on the Orient Express: The lead in in the film is absolutely spectacular, but as a result, all of the other characters and subplots suffer because they don’t get any emphasis. This is particularly a shame when you consider the talent assembled for this film, including Ron Livingston as her husband. Theron is a force of nature here, but because of the emphasis on her, no one else gets to be.
There is also the issue of the movie’s various subplots. Plot elements are introduced to perhaps better flesh out the other cast members, but are often cast aside and forgotten. One of the more interesting potential subplots revolves around Marlo’s son having to change schools due to his disorder and his outbursts, but about halfway through the film (and just as it was starting to get interesting!) the movie abandons it. Likewise, Marlo’s husband and brother both seem to think the other hates them. Why? The movie never bothers exploring it. At just over 90 minutes, I gladly would have sprung for about 15-20 minutes more of movie, just to get some more scenes to flesh the other characters/subplots out.
Another major problem worth mentioning is a drastic change in tone in the third act that completely flips the meaning of the movie on its head (I won’t go too in depth here as I want to avoid spoilers). Plot twists, if well thought out, can support the material and boost appreciation for the material. But here it just feels like a sloppy, rushed M. Night Shyamalan-style ending which is totally inappropriate for the material, and doesn’t fit with the movie’s unflinching, down-to-earth look at motherhood.
I’m definitely split on how to feel about Tully. Charlize Theron’s performance here is Oscar worthy, but the lack of emphasis and development for other characters, and the inappropriate and out-of-place plot twists in the third act derail the experience. Despite this, I can still give the movie a recommendation on the strength of Theron’s role.
Rating: Two-and-a-half stars out of four.