Tully is the culmination of two beautiful performances, full of raw emotion and instinct as Jason Reitman, Diablo Cody, Charlize Theron and Mackenzie Davis explore the stresses of modern-day family dynamics. Jay Duplass and Ron Livingston co-star.
I am not a mom. I am not a dad. I am an uncle to six wonderful nieces and nephews, two of which are in college; one a senior in high school, a middle-schooler and two pre-kindergartners. Both sets of families are highly engaged in their respective children’s upbringings, a product of the generations above us.
And then there’s me. Oh how I must’ve kept my parents awake at night with my challenges. In fact, I probably still do. But that’s a discussion for another session, doctor.
This review is as much about me as it is about Jason Reitman’s rather brilliant Tully. That’s the important distinction. Tully is about every family in modern America. It’s struck a bit of a row going to its opening weekend as it divides people for its take on mental health and I’ll circle back to that in just a moment.
Tully is the story of Marlo (Charlize Theron) and Drew (Ron Livingston), an upper middle-class family with two kids and a third on the way. Marlo is the stay-at-home mom, managing lunch schedules while trying to find a balance. They are making ends meet, and none of the kids are suffering.
However, the picture that Reitman and writer Diablo Cody paint is that of a mom who is on the edge of breaking down, but “Marlo is Mom!” and so, she has to take care of the kids through her own haze of exhaustion. Their daughter is a bright, talented and witty teenager, their son has multiple sensory and emotional issues keeping Marlo on her toes throughout this third pregnancy, “a happy accident that” they’re working through.
Marlo’s older brother Craig (Jay Duplass) offers the services of a night nanny as a gift. At first, Marlo rejects the offer, saying that she and Drew can get through the pregnancy. When Marlo realizes just how much she’s missing by not getting the proper rest at night, she acquiesces. Here’s the rub with this give though: Drew is a perfectly competent daddy. Where is his heft in these child-rearing days?
And that’s just the first half of this story. Following the birth of their newborn, Tully comes into their lives.
There is a sense with Mackenzie Davis’s performance that life is on Easy Street, that there’s no stress that cannot be overcome. It actually serves as a nice ‘cool down’ or in parental parlance, a ‘time-out’ for Marlo and for us. We’re so ramped up as the audience by the time Tully comes along, we all need a time out.
The essence of the cooling off period offers some interesting insight into conventional wisdoms that I think we sometimes all forget such as amazing birthday parties for friends with face painters, balloons galore or cupcakes with just the right Minion on them for class. And actions and events that we’d probably just as soon do without, but mommy and daddy need to be taken care of too. Tully is really a surrogate, or better, a gateway for our emotions and our actions.
This is why Theron and Davis are a match made in Diablo Cody’s heaven. They react together so well that when the third act veers the way it does, we’re left with the idea, “what just happened?!” This is where audiences become divided because it is such a drastic turn. Yet the last frames offer perhaps the most clearly-defined moments.
As the credits rolled, I was reminded of Ron Howard’s Parenthood (1989) which is told from the dad’s perspective rather than the mom’s. Where Steve Martin is very much an amalgam of that film’s screenwriters and producers, Charlize Theron is an amalgam of Diablo Cody. What struck me was the rollercoaster analogy by Grandma (Helen Shaw) and how it applies, thematically to Tully:
When I was 19, Grandpa took me on a rollercoaster. Up, down. Up, down. Oh, what a ride. I always wanted to go again. It was always interesting to me how a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so . . . excited and so thrilled all together.
Some didn’t like it. They went on the Merry-go-Round. It just goes around.
I like the rollercoaster. You get more out of it.
It’s not through the laughter or the tears, or the ups and downs that we find Marlo’s salvation. It’s the rawness of those experiences that define her journey. It’s not a perfect journey, but it is so uniquely told that it shouldn’t be missed.
Now in theaters, Tully has been rated R by the MPAA.