Dir.: Jason Reitman; Cast: Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Mark Duplass, Ron Livingston, Elaine Tan; USA 2018, 96 min.
Tully, the third cooperation for director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody – after Juno and Young Adult – is a realistic, bitter-sweet study of suburban family life near New York, and a flirt with the supernatural, which will not be disclosed (no spoilers). Apart from the lame ending, the two strands form an exciting unity, held together by the female leads Charlize Theron (Young Adult) and Mackenzie Davis (Always Shine).
We meet Marlo (Theron) heavily pregnant in her third trimester – and not loving it at all. Theron was either over-committed to her role, or her fat-suit is superior to anything seen so far. But Marlo has to carry the whole weight of the new arrival, the third, and not a happy accident. “I feel like an abandoned trashbag” and “My body looks a relief map for a war-torn country” are some of her choice comments. The reason for the overload is mainly husband Drew (Livingston), who is more absent than present, and has substituted their sex-life for nocturnal marathons on the Play Station. Her brother Craig (Duplass) is higher up the bourgeois ladder, and offers to pay for a night time nanny; whilst his perfectly trim wife Elyse (Tan) puts her foot in with comments “I had to crawl to the gym in my last month of pregnancy”. Needless to say, Craig and Elyse have a couple of perfect children, who love their greens, whilst Marlo’s daughter Sarah and son Jonah would prefer something more filling like pizza. Sarah’s reaction to the new arrival is a loss of self-esteem, and to compound matters, Jonah is about to be kicked out of kindergarten because his parents pretend that he is just “quirky”, rather than on the autism spectrum.
After the birth of Mia, and some sleepless nights amidst the rising domestic chaos, Marlo decides to accept her brother’s offer of help: Enter Tully (Davis), an optimistic, practical angel of competence, who not only liberates Marlo from the nightly child duties, but brings order into the household.. But there is a slight android quality about Tully, enhanced by her androgynous looks. We suspect the worst, when Tully helps Marlo to spice up her sex-life, wearing a waitress uniform, one of Drew’s beloved fetishes. But nothing comes out of this encounter, and soon Marlo and Tully become a unit. After a night-out in Brooklyn, Marlo’s old haunt, Tully announces suddenly, that she has to leave.
Certainly, Cody’s script is the soul of this feature, her dialogue is witty; and well-informed by her own experience of motherhood. One of her next projects, titled Barbie, is a live action film about a doll from Barbie Land, who is expelled from this universe and has adventures in the real world. With Tully Cody asks whether motherhood has to be the end of an independent life – is the old Marlo of Brooklyn dead or, can she be re-animated?
DoP Eric Steelberg’s images work best during the chaotic time in Marlo’s household and the confrontations between Marlo and the kindergarten teachers. But sometimes, like the whole project in the end, he finds too many comprises, choosing soothing colour schemes, avoiding more innovative angles. Tully could have been a great feature, but taking back so much of the critique at the end, spoils the whole enterprise.
OUT ON RELEASE THIS FRIDAY, 4 MAY 2018