Tully is one of those terribly difficult films to discuss without spoilers, so bear with me.
The second Diablo Cody collaboration with Charlize Theron following Young Adult and third Cody collaboration with Juno Director Jason Reitman, this time around Theron plays Marlo. Fresh into maternity leave and expecting her third child with husband Drew (Ron Livingston), their first, Jonah, isn’t fitting in too well in kindergarten and requires particular attention. Marlo’s evidently wealthier brother offers to shell out for a night nanny, Tully, played by Mackenzie Davis, and that’s enough about the plot.
An ever-reliable Theron turns in one of her best dramatic performances coming off of all things a series of action blockbusters, while Davis executes her role with the recondite charm characteristic of her series-high performance in Black Mirror favourite ‘San Junipero.’
Tully is (very broadly speaking) about two things; the circumstances not uncharacteristic of motherhood, and early motherhood at that, and a particular type of related though fairly also distinct health issue, which the film deals with in broad terms, that is generally less than ably addressed in mainstream cinema. The latter can reasonably be stated to be of wide if underappreciated significance, the treatment of which forms the crux of what will inevitably divide audiences.
As regards the former factor, while too of universal significance as the film aptly drives home throughout and at it’s end, as it is depicted here will no doubt result in many empathising differently with the narrative and in such a manner to which this author among many others cannot profess. This element will no doubt determine a not insignificant portion of Tully’s audience, who won’t be at all surprised that the film’s release coincided with Mother’s Day.
For all its dramatic misgivings which I will return to shortly, Tully’s thematic bona fides are comparably better executed. The film’s chosen health issue is represented very differently by two figures who despite not sharing much screen time proceed to form Tully’s emotional backbone. Pairing together again for a heartrending concluding sequence, depicting their distinct yet not incomparable commonalities as something to not be overcome for their betterment but for that purpose appreciated and better understood is Tully’s rare and endearing quality.
Treating such, as in the case of the main character, as a quality more reflective of abounding potential than anything wholly problematic, given how similar matters are typically and all too commonly outlined in standard fare Tully’s leaps in these regards are all the more remarkable. Comparable at many junctures to a supremely underrated 2016 feature starring Paul Dano, the likeness is emblematic of what is both great and disappointing about Tully.
Tully hinges in large part on how audiences will respond to its key twist. The former film, which highlighted like issues, hung its dramatic impact not on a fairly similar turn but an extended conclusion that is mirrored all too briefly here in the manner referred to above. Conversely, Tully shelves it’s dramatic follow-through, instead resting on the impact of the revelation that as in the 2016 film is rendered not indiscernible throughout. Signalled coyly and at times more blatantly by a number of lines and interactions, a key sequence involving a late-night encounter between multiple characters by virtue of the previous lack thereof makes a stab at a necessary piece of misdirection that, as a result of the ensuing and distinct dramatic upheaval, renders itself as one of the more glaring clues.
One piece of the soundtrack, a well-chosen cover of a theme from a well-known franchise, in the style of that which was similarly deployed in the Breaking Bad finale goes so far as to explicitly lay out the film’s dramatic ends and conceptions. Wisely refraining from allowing the track to reveal its title, the candid choice of words would likely have been that bit too obvious.
Crucially, the aforementioned film understood that the audience’s investment in the characters occurred regardless of how cognisant they are at any one stage of their underlining, yet to be revealed qualities and because of each figure’s inherent relatability and creativity; Tully does not. Regardless of whether or not a viewer catches on before the requisite reveal, the earlier feature was shrewd enough to recognise that the emotional value of the film turned not on its shock value but on our hitherto investment in the characters which is at Tully’s penultimate stage sidelined for a not irregular dramatic ploy.
A dialogue in the concluding stages does however leave elements of Tully’s chosen focus, discussed in the latter half of this piece, open to wide interpretation and greater application in discerning the film’s abundant resonance as it relates to a subject matter seldomly managed well on screen. For this factor and this alone, aside from it’s other qualities, performances and promise as a fixture of filmic debate and inevitable deconstruction, Tully is one worth catching.
Tully is in cinemas now