Directed by: Jason Reitman
Premise: A mother (Charlize Theron) struggles to keep up with the demands of parenthood after the birth of her third child. She hires a night nanny (Mackenzie Davis) who cares for the baby in the late evening and early morning hours.
What Works: Tully reunites the talents of director Jason Reitman, writer Diablo Cody, and actor Charlize Theron. Reitman and Cody first collaborated on 2007’s Juno and the three of them worked together on 2011’s Young Adult. Tully showcases their creative synergy. The film has the caustic wit that has characterized Diablo Cody’s writing and the Jason Reitman’s filmmaking but in Tully that’s dampened by melancholy. The dialogue isn’t so smug and there is a weariness to Charlize Theron’s performance that feels authentic. That is the most impressive thing about Tully. The movie captures the unglamorousness of parenthood. Hollywood films and American mass media as a whole portray parenthood and especially motherhood as either the pinnacle of happiness or an act of martyrdom. The exhaustion and grinding routine of the everyday are rarely seen in Hollywood films. Tully punches a hole in the mainstream vision of motherhood. The first half of the picture is funny but in a way that is a little discomforting. Tully is the kind of movie that elicits nervous laughter from the audience as they recognize the truths about parenthood enacted on screen. The film is subversive in the way that it suggests that motherhood and domesticity are not necessarily going to make women happy. But Tully isn’t an anti-family work either. The sequences of exhaustion are countered by other moments of love and levity. But the movie’s mix of those things makes it an honest refutation of the way motherhood is idealized in mainstream culture.
What Doesn’t: After a terrific start, Tully dramatically flattens in the middle of its story. The night nanny arrives and things go swimmingly with Charlize Theron’s character quickly overcoming her misgivings, recovering her heath and sanity, and making a friend of the younger woman. The stability opens up new areas of conflict as this middle aged mother is suddenly aware of her age and yearns for the wildness and freedom of her youth. The movie doesn’t really do much with that. It’s a straightforward mid-life crisis that never takes it characters anywhere interesting. The film culminates in a twist ending that is a cop out of everything that’s come before. The twist is reasonably embedded into the story but it is the equivalent of finding out everything was a dream. It cheapens the material and evades the real implications of this mother’s midlife crisis.
Bottom Line: Tully is a mixed result. Charlize Theron is terrific and the movie has something smart and relevant to say about motherhood. But a lot of that is derailed by the ending.
Episode: #539 (April 26, 2015)