Written by Diablo Cody
Directed by Jason Reitman
Marlo is already the mother of two young children with a third on the way. Her daughter is having confidence issues, and her son is showing signs of being on the autism spectrum. Her son’s condition, in particular, is creating anxiety in her life as the headmaster of her children’s private school is pushing for her child to seek services elsewhere. Marlo’s brother recommends hiring a night nanny, a person who will take care of your newborn’s nighttime crying fits and only wake you for feedings. Tully is the name of the night nanny who arrives, and she is a vibrant, inquisitive presence. Over time, Marlo comes to find herself revitalized and friendship between she and Tully begins.
Like most movie audiences my first encounter with a piece of Diablo Cody writing was the film, Juno. I reviled it and still do. The quirkiness of the language is what grated on me, the creation of slang that the teenage characters threw around the primary culprit. This left me wary of Cody’s style of writing for any upcoming projects. However, that ended up being unwarranted because I’ve ended up loving everything I’ve seen from her since, specifically Jennifer’s Body, Young Adult, and now Tully. I think Cody’s writing is best when A) it is directed by Jason Reitman, B) when it is about adults rather than teens, and C) Charlize Theron is the film’s protagonist.
I can imagine how much Charlize Theron likes to play the two characters she has received from Cody. They are deeply flawed roles that provide so much to explore as an actor and to play with audience expectations. Marlo is one of the most real portrayals of a mother I’ve ever seen on film, from the physical choices made to the ever-present exhaustion we see from the beginning. Of course, Marlo changes like all good characters do but don’t become a pinnacle of virtue. She shifts, for the better but her problems are not all solved. I applaud Cody for writing female characters with deep complexity instead of “do no wrong” caricatures of women. So another round of applause for Theron for being entirely at ease with presenting herself both in physicality and psychologically as such a broken person, but still finding the light inside this woman.
Playing off of Theron is rising star Mackenzie Davis. If you are a fan of the underrated Halt & Catch Fire you know her as the fiery Cameron. As the titular character of Tully she plays a person who is overflowing with enthusiasm for the potential of life. Where Marlo has lost seeing any magic in the routines of motherhood, Tully considers a pattern of beauty emerging from the warm bubble of safety a parent creates for their children to grow inside. Marlo is showing feelings of buyer’s remorse about this whole parent thing, and she views Tully’s attitude as naivete, at first. As their friendship blossoms, Marlo is forced to confront her feelings, specifically her regrets and comes to understand Tully’s perspective and comes to see her motherhood in a new way.
There are few films of quality out there that deal with post-partum depression and admit that parenthood can be an ugly experience for much of the time. However, Cody and director Jason Reitman understand that beauty is found in the mundane and the seemingly ugly. When Marlo is beating herself up about the state of life she finds herself in, Tully reminds her: “You’re convinced that you’re this failure, but you made your biggest dream come true.” She goes on to talk about Marlo’s childhood which was not stable and in which she didn’t have a consistent female figure to show her care and love.
Everything about the characters in Tully is perfect. Marlo’s husband Drew is painted not as a dumb husband caricature but as a guy who works outside the home and isn’t being as thoughtful about his role in the house. He’s not bad, Marlo is not evil, but they also aren’t perfect. This doesn’t mean their marriage will collapse but that they need to adjust and work to address problems as a team. Tully is a quiet yet remarkable film about American parenthood that is about as honest as they come.