Thursday 12 March 2020

Movie Review: Tully (2018)

A social drama with moments of humour, Tully explores the darker and often unspoken perils of motherhood.

Full-time mom Marlo (Charlize Theron) is in her mid-40s and married to Drew (Ron Livingston). They already have two kids, including the "quirky" (social code for difficult) Jonah, and now the perpetually exhausted Marlo is about to give birth to a third child thanks to an unplanned pregnancy. Baby Mia is born, and with Drew frequently absent and otherwise uninterested in mundane baby tasks, Marlo is consumed by round-the-clock child care duties.

Near the point of emotional and physical collapse she heeds the advice of her brother Craig (Mark Duplass) and hires a night nanny. The energetic, bubbly, nocturnal and perpetually positive Tully (Mackenzie Davis) is surprisingly young, but immediately relieves Marlo of looking after Mia during the night. And Tully soon provides extra help, cleaning the house, preparing cupcakes and reviving Marlo's moribond sex life. A rejuvenated Marlo starts to feel much better about herself, and forms an unexpected bond with Tully.

Tully bravely ventures where few parenting stories dare to go. Marlo does enjoy fleeting moments of bonding with newborn Mia, but writer Diablo Cody is more interested in confronting the stress induced by sleepless nights, constant worry, and the elimination of any personal time or sense of self-identity. Already struggling with Jonah's tantrums and misbehaviour at school, Marlo is at a low ebb before Mia arrives, and the plunge back into the blurry cycle of diaper changes, nursing and burping threatens to push her over the edge.

Director Jason Reitman surrounds Marlo with the normalcy of a slightly befuddled and generally hands-off husband, a professional and caring school principal, and a wealthy brother with the seemingly perfectly balanced life complete with a confident wife and well-adjusted kids. But from Marlo's increasingly warped perspective they are all any combination of clueless, judgmental and irritating, their every comment landing on the wrong side of her battered self-esteem.

Marlo finally succumbs to the idea of seeking help, and into her soiled world steps Tully, a remarkable energy source radiating youthful confidence, empathy, and helpfulness. And Tully makes it clear she not only wants to care for Mia, her real objective is to help recalibrate Marlo's whole life. Pressure starts to fall off Marlo's shoulder, the fog of fatigue parts and she can see her way towards joy.

In the film's final third Cody and Reitman playfully tease out the emerging and unusual relationship between mother and nanny, Tully excelling as commentary on the primal sacrifices and dangerous sojourns past mental and physical limits required to provide selfless care.

Charlize Theron commands attention as she soaks the screen with exasperated exhaustion and overflowing levels of frustration at a society that simply expects moms to cope with whatever the role brings. Mackenzie Davis provides a perfect foil, bringing Tully to life as a woman who thrives as a caregiver but has not yet experienced full adulthood responsibilities. The two women make for a remarkable duo, in a vivid personification of the supernatural motherhood journey.

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