If there’s one creative collaboration that many look forward to, it’d have to be between director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody. Their first collaboration was the 2007 comedy-drama Juno. With its hip dialogue, wonderful performances and a refreshing view of the coming-of-age genre (for that time), it was a critically-acclaimed hit that was a huge step for their careers.
And for their second collaboration, they overcome the sophomore slump and made the 2011 film Young Adult, an uncompromising and funny look at prolonged adolescence that despite never achieving the success of Juno, it still showed that Reitman and Cody were a force to be reckoned with.
But after that, their recent work in separate vocations have gotten mixed results. Reitman had gone along to director the execrable romantic-drama Labor Day, which was a carbon-copy of a terrible Nicholas Sparks film adaptation. And then he directed the incredibly misguided teenage drama Men, Women and Children, a film with an interesting premise explored with such sloppy and overbearing execution.
As for Cody, she’s gone on to write other scripts for middling films like the comedy-drama Ricki and the Flash and made her directorial debut, Paradise, which was a critical and financial flop. Now the two talents have reunited once again for Tully, a comedy/drama about the difficulties of motherhood with Charlize Theron coming back into the fray. Will the film get Reitman and Cody back on their feet?
Theron stars as Marlo, a HR employee at a protein bar company who’s just about to give birth to her third child. Her husband, Ron (Ron Livingston, fitting), loves her very much and works hard, but unfortunately remains oblivious about the demands that motherhood puts on her.
After the baby is born, her wealthy brother Craig (Mark Duplass), offers a solution to hire a nighttime nanny to help handle the increasing workload. After a long consideration, she buckles down and decides to hire Tully (Mackenzie Davis). Performing miracles left and right, the two start to form a strong bond. But when Marlo starts to know more about Tully, things start to appear a little off…
Does the film succeed as a commentary on motherhood as well as a worthwhile creative endeavour between Reitman, Cody and Theron? Reitman still goes for the retro-hip vibe with his use of music like Cyndi Lauper and Cody still goes for the cooler-than-real dialogue (although no “honest to blog” lines happen) that made her popular in the first place but thankfully, it is a return to form to what they do best: showing empathy for deeply flawed characters with very little sugar-coating.
While the story sounds like a feel-good experience or something with flights of fancy, the execution is anything but. Uncompromising, acidic and funny, Tully brings a sense of duality to the story, making both the slightly fantastical and the gritty collide together at times where it might seem like a fault to the storytelling, but in retrospect, brings greater depth to the characters, particularly Marlo.
Charlize Theron has always been a transformative actress who relies on physicality with her performances, with films like the serial-killer biopic Monster to the comedy-drama Young Adult to the action blockbuster Mad Max: Fury Road and the recent spy-thriller Atomic Blonde. In the case of Tully, she gives one of her best performances in her entire career. Nuanced, fierce, vulnerable,
quirky and acerbic, sometimes all at once, Theron makes Marlo remarkably human.
Mackenzie Davis, whose talents show in acclaimed shows like Halt and Catch Fire and Black Mirror and films like the psychological thriller Always Shine, have been underutilized lately, especially in Blade Runner 2049. Here in the title role, she brightens up the screen the second she shows up. Charming, energetic, lively, it’s no wonder why Marlo would get along with Tully and both Theron and David share great chemistry, particularly when the relationship becomes more intimate.
Even the supporting and seemingly obligatory characters are brought to life by both Livingston and Duplass. Livingston in particular stands out because he makes his character relatable, which is surprising considering the actions (on inaction) his character does throughout most of the film.
The story is told quite well, with some stumbles (the foreshadowing, involving a mermaid) but the film never flinches when dealing with motherhood. One moment involves Marlo carrying her child in a baby bassinet and accidentally hitting it against a filing cabinet, which brought gasps from the audience.
While there is nothing new or original in the story itself, the film does feature a major turn in the third act that brings a whole new perspective to what happened prior, contextualizing the film in a whole new way that lends depth to the characters’ actions. But undoubtedly, that major turn is bound to polarize audiences, feeling that it just cheapens the film’s impact on such a turn.
Overall, Tully is a return to form for both director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody. Featuring great performances (particularly Charlize Theron and Mackenzie Davis), an unflinching and engrossing look on motherhood and a witty, acerbic script from Cody, Tully is a film worth looking out for.
Review Score: FOUR NANNIES (OUT OF FIVE)
Tully is in Australian cinemas tomorrow 10th May.