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TULLY: Charlize Theron excels as down trodden mum in Diablo Cody’s almost convincing comedy
May 3, 2018
For over a decade, the writer/director duo of Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody have been producing realistic, acerbic stories of growing up, demystifying the idea that adults have any more of an idea what they’re doing than when they were teenagers. Beginning with the surprise hit Juno in 2007, the pair went on to produce the underrated Young Adult starring Charlize Theron in 2011. Now, Reitman and Cody are back with Tully, another bitingly funny depiction of adulthood which sees Theron return, this time as Marlo, an overworked mother of three whose life is turned on its head by the arrival of night nanny Tully (Mackenzie Davis).
Just like in their previous collaborations, Reitman and Cody are unafraid to go to places that other filmmakers may deem taboo in the quest for realism, constructing a warts and all depiction of motherhood. At the start of the film, a heavily pregnant Marlo is confronted by the principal of her son’s prep school who is concerned by his disruptive behaviour. Enraged by the teacher’s evasive language, Marlo lets her polite façade fade and erupts in the principal’s office. Such a confrontational script requires an actress who is equally unafraid to go to such trenchant places – often in the name of comedy – creating an even more difficult balancing act. Marlo is a character beaten down by the responsibility of being a mother, made even more difficult by her husband’s busy work schedule and more ‘hands-off’ approach to parenting. Reitman and Cody do a good job of making the audience sympathetic of Marlo’s decision to hire the night nanny, without it seeming like she is abandoning her children.
It is a shame, then, that this commitment to realism is completely abandoned by a third-act twist that, while surprising enough, falls apart when placed under any kind of scrutiny. Knowing this twist will undoubtedly alter the way certain parts of the film are perceived, and Tully may indeed be a film that benefits from a second viewing but ultimately, the plot twist raises more questions than it answers. The intention of the revelation seems to be a comment on every woman’s innate matriarchal strength (or something like that), when in reality, it’s a shallow plot device posing as something more intelligent. Reitman and Cody do such an excellent job of convincing the audience to like these dysfunctional characters throughout the majority of the film that this sudden tonal U-turn feels completely unnecessary, almost as if the plot twist was the plot to begin with, and the likable characters and sharp wit were a happy accident found while shooting.
Thankfully, the final act twist is just that, happening so late in the films run time that it doesn’t sully the hour and a half that came before it. Theron and Ron Livingstone have solid chemistry as a husband and wife who may not appear deeply in love on the surface, but are both determined to provide for their family, even if their own lives take a backseat. The ever-underrated Mark Duplass is excellent as Marlo’s douchey, rich (perhaps douchily rich?) brother Craig who, seeing how run-down Marlo has become, offers to pay for his sister’s night nanny.
For about ninety minutes, Tully is a razor sharp and brutally realistic depiction of motherhood, featuring a stand-out performance from Charlize Theron, who once again commits entirely to the role, putting on 50lbs in order to make her character more naturalistic. It is only an eye-rolling plot twist plucked straight out of a bad M Night Shyamalan film that lets Tully down as it reaches its conclusion, reframing all that came before it in the audience’s eyes. Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody have an unquestionable grasp of character and dialogue, but their first attempt to step out of the mould they set in the much more grounded Juno and Young Adult reveals that the pair work better within the confines of reality.
Tully is out on general release on the 4th May 2018.
Words by Ethan Megenis-Clarke @_ethanmc.