As the youngest of three children, I’d like to think that by the time I came around, my mother was completely chill. I know that’s not true though, and the struggle she endured from raising three boys without much hands-on support from my father left its mark on her long after I got out of diapers. Marlo Moreau (Charlize Theron, ATOMIC BLONDE) is in a similar situation. The 40-year-old, suburban New Jersey, mother of two already has plenty on her plate when she gets pregnant again. Although she and her husband Drew (Ron Livingston, LUCKY; THE END OF THE TOUR) have okay jobs, they are like many middle-class Americans who barely have enough to make ends meet. Their 8-year-old daughter Sarah is fine but she’s already starting to have self-doubts. Their 6-year-old son Jonah, though, is a bit of a handful. Not (yet, at any rate) diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, the boy struggles with sensory overload. Just before Marlo is about to give birth, she learns that she and Drew need to hire a private teacher for Jonah to help him cope in the classroom with the other kids. In an attempt to help Marlo out, her rich and perfect brother Craig (Mark Duplass, BLUE JAY) and his wife offer to pay for a night nanny for the couple for a few months. Marlo and Drew, however, will have nothing of that offer though, first, because it comes from Craig, and second, because it’s not their style. But after a few weeks of round-the-clock infant care along with looking after the rest of the family’s needs, Marlo caves in and calls the nanny.
Tully (Mackenzie Davis, BLADE RUNNER 2049; THE MARTIAN) is everything that Marlo isn’t, or perhaps she’s everything that Marlo was before she got married, moved to the suburbs, had kids and put on about 50 pounds. She’s young, pretty, fit, has an active sex life, and always has some words of wisdom to impart at the right time. Yet the two women strike up a friendship and they understand each other extremely well. For Marlo, Tully is a Mary Poppins-like godsend as she’s finally able to get some sleep and be the kind of mother and wife that she wants to be. All good things though, have to come to an end at some point.
TULLY is the third collaboration between director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody, the first two being JUNO (2007) and YOUNG ADULT (2011). Theron also starred in latter film. Cody has both her fans and her critics for the affected words that she puts in her characters’ mouths. I liked JUNO but I can see why others didn’t. This film is much the same with Marlo and Tully saying things that don’t seem honest for who these characters are. The story lends itself to a THE HANDS THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE treatment, and even Marlo references that 1992 film when she objects to hiring a night nanny, so you know it’s not going to go there… although there is one scene that, most likely intentionally, makes you think that it really will. Instead, it’s a comedy-drama about post-partum depression, at least that’s what it’s supposed to be. Unfortunately, it’s neither comedic enough nor dramatic enough to hit the intended target. TULLY needed to be wittier or darker or both.
That being said, Theron is great as Marlo. The actress reportedly gained 50 pounds for the role and she wasn’t afraid to let us see it. There’s one humorous scene where her daughter sees her with her top off and says, “Mom! What happened to your body?” Out of the mouths of babes! The movie needed to have more scenes like that. Davis is very good too. She reminds me of Eva Green (BASED ON A TRUE STORY), as she has that sweet look that masks an evil soul. Fortunately, we’re going to be seeing more of her on the big screen soon as she’s slated to star in the drama-horror film THE TURNING, which is due out early next year. I can definitely see her doing that genre.
TULLY is an okay film. Certainly, the performances are better than the writing. Go see it but don’t lose any sleep over it if you don’t.
Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live in RTHK Radio 4’s studio on Thursday, August 30th at 8:30 am HK time!
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