It’s fair to say that when your very first feature film script picks up the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, the rest of your career is bound to be looked at through a stronger lens. That certainly seems to have been the case for Diablo Cody. 2007’s Juno hurled her in to the limelight, and in the following ten years she has written and executive produced to mixed effect. Juno and Young Adult remain some of my favourites to this day, whereas Jennifer’s Body and Ricki And The Flash didn’t quite do it for me. On which side of the Cody conundrum would Tully find itself?
The film tells the story of Marlo (Charlize Theron), a mother of three who, after recently giving birth to a daughter, hires a night nanny called Tully (Mackenzie Davis) to help ease her overwhelming exhaustion. The arrangement produces positive change in Marlo’s life, and a strong connection and friendship between her and Tully appears to bring out some of her old, happy self. In true cinematic fashion, however, things are, of course, not necessarily what they seem. Tully one hundred percent falls in to that category of film in which the less is said about it, the more enjoyable and impactful the viewing experience is. On the surface it might not seem like the type of film that you need to avoid spoilers for, seemingly just another quirky, interesting and sharp brainchild of Diablo Cody, but trust me on this one, the more oblivious you are, the better!
So, what can I say about the film without ruining its impact? Stepping aside from a certain game changing element, what you find at face value in Tully is a raw, honest and at times painfully authentic portrayal of the struggles of motherhood. As someone who doesn’t have, and isn’t ever planning to have, children, it is nothing short of terrifying to witness all of the sacrifices and selfless actions that a parent has to undertake in order to raise a tiny human. The film maintains a perfect balance of drama and tension cut through with searing and effective humour, something I have come to automatically associate with the work of Diablo Cody.
Tully is a picture that is absolutely going to benefit from repeat viewings, for some reasons that I won’t talk about here and some that I will. I can imagine that the feelings evoked from the narrative will be completely different between viewers with children and viewers without, but don’t be fooled in to thinking that the film isn’t universal, because it absolutely is. The central theme of the piece might be motherhood, but there is something for everyone to connect with from accepting one’s inevitable adulthood to mental health to trying to navigate a life that you might not have imagined for yourself in your teens or twenties. I’ve used it above, but the word raw is the one that keeps coming back to me again and again. I choose raw because it’s a word that can relate to honest drama and honest comedy in equal measure, and Tully definitely possesses both.
Is it just me or does Charlize Theron continue to be underrated, despite a Best Actress Academy Award under her belt? Not only does she seem to be one of the few high profile stars willing to undergo physical transformations for roles (total body change in Monster, shaved head in Mad Max: Fury Road and a fifty pound weight gain for this), but she also revels in the variety of her roles, being equally impressive in everything. You couldn’t find two more different characters then Marlo in Tully and Lorraine Broughton in last year’s Atomic Blonde, and damn, Theron smashes them both. There are times when you can almost feel the exhaustion emanating from the character through the screen, all whilst a lively undercurrent of feistiness and long forgotten ‘self’ can be felt in important glimpses throughout the plot.
As the titular Tully, Mackenzie Davis is a slightly more mellow than typical manic pixie dream girl figure, who comes in to Marlo’s life at a time when they couldn’t be more opposite. She is captivating and charismatic, and a little bit mysterious from the get go. The scenes that the two share together have the potential to be brought with generational tension, but the film takes a different approach and the relationship that is kindled between the two becomes more complex that you can possibly imagine.
Ron Livingston completes the family unit as Drew, Marlo’s well meaning, compassionate but sadly ineffectual husband and father. His complete lack of villainy yet complacensy when it comes to his wife’s emotional well being makes Livingston’s characterisation one that might make a few dads in the audience uncomfortable, and rightly so.
Overall, Tully is one the biggest surprised and hidden gems of the year so far. You would be entirely mistaken to disregard it as ‘just another motherhood movie’, because it is so much more than that. I rarely get hoodwinked by films anymore, but Tully really did an unexpected number on me. The only thing I can say is that you should see as soon as possible, before its contents filter in to public cinematic knowledge!