Review: Tully (2018)

(l to r.) Mackenzie Davis as Tully and Charlize Theron as Marlo star in Jason Reitman's TULLY, a Focus Features release.

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

Marlo is not really happy in her life. A sleepy husband, two children who are demanding all her time, a son who turns out to be ‘separate’, and then things are not going smoothly financially either. The moment we meet Marlo (Charlize Theron) she is also expecting her third. It soon becomes clear that all the energy and joy of life has been sucked out of Marlo in recent years and that this woman is completely absorbed by motherhood.

When Marlo appears to be experiencing 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 cripple the mother’), Marlo decides to change tack. Marlo soon develops a strong bond with this nanny, whose character carries the title role of the film (played by the great Mackenzie Davis, previously seen in ‘Black Mirror’ and ‘Blade Runner 2049’).

It all seems pretty heavy and it is not for nothing that ‘Tully’ seems to miss some momentum in the first half hour. Director Jason Reitman (previously directed, among other things, the strong ‘Juno’) uses the beginning mainly to show the viewer how incredibly hard it is for Marlo and how much she has lost control of her life. Now in a movie like ‘Tully’ this is necessary to get the story going, but it makes the movie a bit difficult to access at first. However, once Mackenzie Davis enters the film as Tully, the film becomes more energetic and lively, mainly thanks to Davis’s disarming acting. Davis also ensures with her energetic appearance that Charlize Theron (who gained pounds for this role) can do more than just walk around slovenly and exhausted. 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) Davis that the film really starts to fascinate from this moment on.

Other characters mainly have a serving role, and are at times on the edge of caricature (just think of Marlo’s rich-progressive brother and sister-in-law). Ron Livingston, as Marlo’s husband, gets little more to do than lie on the bed like a gaming salt bag, but still manages to make his character work, partly due to a strong last fifteen minutes. What ‘Tully’ seems to miss at times is a clear tension. For the first hour the film ripples on a bit quietly, 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 a (unjustified) longing for the past and the eternal urge for perfection.

Director Jason Reitman succeeds excellently in his mission to find a nice balance between drama and comedy, but also uses some tricks that do not work out well, such as an overly emphasized theme about mermaids. In addition, it is a pity that most of the side 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 contradictory desires of man: do we choose 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 grind and shows that certainty does not always have to be ugly. But above all ‘Tully’ is an ode to motherhood,