Sure, this review would have been thematically more relevant, a few days ago, but it’s never too late to honor mothers. On that subject, we have the latest collaboration of director Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody. After breaking out with the utterly delightful Juno, which holds up despite all the parodies and think pieces (or as a lovely colleague of mine refers to them, stink pieces) about its dialogue and more, the duo would later team up for Young Adult starring Charlize Theron in 2011 and I’d love to say more about the film, but it is stuck permanently towards the top of my Netflix queue since I’ve lacked that needed extra push to watch something about someone deliberately unpleasant.
Tully is their third team up and Theron returns to star, this time as a wife and mother of two, a third arriving not long into the film. It’s very much an unglamorous role, as the film is not afraid to show off the truly horrible things pregnancy does to the body and why all people who have children are mad. She’s also playing a character who is clearly just beaten into the ground by life and is a shell of what she once was. What the film perhaps does best is that it makes this believable and sympathetic without resorting to cheap tactics of villainizing other characters or simple melodramatic plots.
Her husband (played by Ron Livingston) may not be the most attentive to how much she is struggling or as helpful with the new baby as one would hope, but it’s also sympathetic to the fact that he’s working a stressful job with long hours and yet still finds time to help the kids with homework and make lunches and needs some downtime himself. Her brother is a well off, bougie, pretentious prick (played by Mark Duplass because doesn’t he always), but he does genuinely care about (and after) his sister and her family and in many ways, he is more aware of what’s going on with his sister than her own husband. Her son is on the spectrum, but as annoying as dealing with him can get, he’s far more believable than the typical child on the spectrum who are all portrayed basically the same way. The school while obnoxious in its euphemisms and talking around points, does genuinely care about her son and the rest of the kids in their care. And while Theron’s character Marlo’s determination to do everything is admirable, it quickly becomes clear that her trying to do everything and turn away offers of help out of fear of being an unfit mother is causing more harm than good.
Enter Mackenzie Davis’ titular Tully, a night nurse paid for by Marlo’s brother who quickly turns things around. She’s young, bright, and cheerful, and perfect at her job, doing everything she can to make Marlo’s life easier and happier. She doesn’t judge, she cleans, she listens, she gives advice, she soothes the baby in seconds, she’s perfect. She’s also an incredibly obvious “so when’s the other shoe going to drop?” with eyes just as unhinged as she could get on Halt and Catch Fire. While such a role is internally compared to a Lifetime movie, to me it was very much horror-thriller and the movie became spot the foreshadowing. I very much don’t want to spoil, but I will say that the conclusion of this is mostly satisfying if not going to get any points for originality. Instead, it is mostly satisfying because it is not especially relevant to the point of the film and it never loses sight of the domestic comedy-drama that it is (okay aside from a truly unnerving seconds long bit of a montage involving clipping a baby’s toenail that had me near covering my eyes in suspense).
The film has some groan worthy moments of on the nose dialogue, but that’s to be expected both from Diablo Cody, and this type of film. The film is just smart to space them out well and keep them from becoming too melodramatic. There’s some pretty if very overdone imagery (though much of that has been in the past year, presumably after it went into production so I’m not going to blame it for that), but aside from those specific stylistic indulgences, the film is mostly visually understated. The humor is well-done even for someone who can’t relate to any of the “joys” of late pregnancy/motherhood and the film keeps from going too broad or too dark. It’s a well-made and assured film that manages to toe a line between those two easier routes and it is refreshing to have such a film comfortable enough to be its own thing.