If nothing else, Tully will be remembered as the first film that portrayed an honest, warts-and-all look at motherhood. While the film should be rightfully commended for this, it could end up both its blessing and its curse, as its bold and sobering look at the consequences of postpartum depression might prove too subversive to properly resonate.
Written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman, Tully manages to capture the Sisyphisian struggle of families that lie in the statistical middle. A two-income household comprised of wood paneled walls and Formica countertops, complete with the bright, molded plastic of kids’ toys scattered about.
As a whole, Tully is so lovingly mirrored on real-life that it’s somewhat surprising that it makes such a drastic narrative choice in the third act that, arguably, could undercut the story’s overall impact. It’s also the kind of reveal that resides deep in spoiler territory, so it’s impossible to get specific. While it does serve the story, it runs the risk of overshadowing the delicacy of the lived-in story that precedes it.
Charlize Theron is given the spotlight as Marlo, and rightfully so. Her portrayal of a mother of two, and pregnant with her third, is almost hypnotic in its mundanity. A woman weighed down by the everyday obstacles of life, Theron’s performance is nothing short of sublime.
Her husband, Drew (Ron Livingston), spends his days overworked by his job, and while he invests his evenings with the children, retreats to video games in their bedroom at night. He’s certainly not a neglectful husband but falls short when it comes to being aware of what’s happening with Marlo — both internally and externally.
Once Marlo has her third child, she’s no longer able to fight the current to stay afloat, and begins being swept up by the undertow of life. After hitting her breaking point in the school’s parking lot (been there), she takes her brother, Craig (Mark Duplass), up on his offer to hire a night nanny.
Enter the titular Tully, played by Mackenzie Davis, who immediately improves Marlo’s life and her ability to enjoy it. She comes at night, tends to the new baby, calling on Marlo only when it’s feeding time. Marlo awakes rested to a clean house and baked goods waiting for her on the kitchen table.
Marlo begins to bond with Tully, which happen to be the scenes that have made up the bulk of the film’s marketing campaign — a casual back-and-forth with double entendres and accidental wit that mixes the profound with the practical.
The film’s ultimate reveal doesn’t take the charm away from the charm found within these moments themselves, but it does make the viewer want to reassess everything they’d just seen in a way. Which is something that slice-of-life dramedies are almost never capable of pulling off. Sure, many get repeat viewings, but this is the kind of film that will reassign your perspective on a second watch.
Almost lamentably, it’s one of those moments that scratches just past the surface and is possibly done a disservice by happening so close to the film’s closing moments. Contextually, saving your unexpected gut punch until as close to the end as possible makes sense, but it’s such a substantial reveal that you can’t help but want more time with these characters than the epilogue allows.
It’s a testament to the work that Cody and Reitman have created alongside Theron, who, even despite its daring storytelling choices, have collectively made something that’s both effortlessly endearing and emotionally resonating.