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Review: Tully (2018)

Tully (2018)

Directed by: Jason Reitman | 94 minutes | comedy, drama | Actors: Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Mark Duplass, Ron Livingston, Emily Haine, Elaine Tan, Maddie Dixon-Poirier, Colleen Wheeler, Joshua Pak, Lia Frankland, Gameela Wright, Asher Miles Fallica, Stormy Ent, Bella Star Choy

Things are not going well for Marlo in her life. A drowsy husband, two children who claim all her time, a son who turns out to be ‘separate’, and then things are not going smoothly financially. The moment we get to know Marlo (Charlize Theron), she is also expecting her third. It soon becomes clear that all the energy and joie de vivre has been drained from Marlo in recent years and that this woman is completely absorbed by motherhood.

When Marlo seems to be having a mental breakdown a few weeks after giving birth to her third child, her brother (Mark Duplass) advises her to hire a “night nanny” who can take over some of Marlo’s duties. Although she is a bit hesitant at first (‘in films, nannies always take over and make the mother crippled’), Marlo decides to give in. Marlo soon develops a strong bond with this nanny, whose character bears the title role of the film (played by the great Mackenzie Davis, previously seen in ‘Black Mirror’ and ‘Blade Runner 2049’).

It all seems quite heavy and it is not for nothing that ‘Tully’ seems to lack some momentum in the first half hour. Director Jason Reitman (previously directed, among other things, the strong ‘Juno’) mainly uses the beginning to show the viewer how hard it is for Marlo and how much she has lost control of her life. Now in a film like ‘Tully’ this is necessary to get the story going, but it makes the film a bit difficult to access in the beginning. However, once Mackenzie Davis enters the film as Tully, the film becomes more energetic and lively, mainly due to Davis’s disarming playing. With her energetic appearance, Davis also ensures that Charlize Theron (who gained pounds for this role) can do more than just walk around slouchy and dead tired. The dynamic between Tully and Marlo gives the film a much-needed revival and brings out the best in both actresses. It is therefore thanks to Theron and (especially to) Davis that the film really starts to captivate from this moment on.

Other characters mainly have a subservient role, and are at times on the verge of being caricatured (just think of Marlo’s richly progressive brother and sister-in-law). As Marlo’s husband, Ron Livingston gets little more to do than lie in bed like a gaming saltbag, but still manages to make his character work, partly due to a strong last quarter. What ‘Tully’ seems to lack at times is a clear tension. The film is a bit quiet for the first hour, and there is hardly any real character development. In the last half hour, however, the viewer is effectively misled and the film becomes more of a philosophical drama about an (unjustified) longing for the past and the eternal urge for perfection.

Director Jason Reitman succeeds very well in his mission to find a nice balance between drama and comedy, but also uses a few tricks that don’t quite come out well, such as an overly bold theme about mermaids. In addition, it is a pity that most secondary characters remain mainly set pieces, so that the film mainly relies on the strong acting of Theron and Davis. Above all, however, ‘Tully’ is a beautifully made drama that at times raises interesting questions about the conflicting desires of humans: do we opt for a safe life with routine and certainty or for the adventure and unpredictability that comes with it? In that respect ‘Tully’ is mainly an ode to that routine and shows that certainty doesn’t always have to be ugly. But above all, ‘Tully’ is an ode to motherhood, and all the drama and happiness that comes with it.

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