Movie Review: Tully

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Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman duo come together in a hatrick for Tully, eleven years since the release of Juno. The film is a sharp, funny that gives a look at pregnancy and some of the less common challenges surrounding it. This time we see motherhood not from the eyes of a teenager, but Marlo-a mother of three (Charlize Theron) whose latest child might well be the end of her. But then there arrives a la Nanny McPhee, the eponymous miracle nanny, played by Mackenzie Davis.

Marlo and husband Drew (Ron Livingston) already had their hands full. Their eight-year-old daughter has just arrived at an age when kids start defaulting to self-doubt. The son — whom it’s suggested is somewhere on the autism spectrum — is about to get kicked out of kindergarten. And when finally the third baby arrives, she proves to be just a hungry leech who never lets Marlo get a good night’s sleep.

Drew, although helpful, plays video games in bed to unwind and goes on work trips to Phoenix while Marlo sits awake and obsessively watches reruns of the magnificent Showtime reality series. He is an ineffectual nice guy who does ‘what he can,’ but that isn’t really much. He works hard at his career and helps with homework, but like most husbands, he is clueless about the way his wife’s existence has turned into a pressure cooker.

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Meanwhile, Marlo sits awake and obsessively watches reruns of the magnificent Showtime reality series. She is too exhausted to care if her nipples are leaking, her feet have grown three sizes since the first time she got pregnant, or her belly is bloated. (Either Theron is really committed to the role, or she’s wearing the most believable fat suit in film history).

Marlo's brother (Mark Duplass), offers to hire a ‘night nanny’ who'll keep watch over the infant while parents get some rest and only waking Mommy when it's time to breastfeed. The couple rejects the offer, but when Marlo nearly goes postal at her son's school, she reconsiders. Enter Tully, who arrives one night, full of wonder to balance Marlo's exhaustion and her conspicuous midriff to remind Marlo what has become of her own body.

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Tully is 26 years-old, wise beyond her years, sharp and sexy, and a supremely vibrant and generous caregiver. Tully’s presence is made out to be a balm. She looks after the baby at night so that Marlo can slumber, bringing the crying infant to her for breastfeeding.

She also cleans up the house and beams with pleasure even as she drops whimsical holistic pensées like “She’ll grow a little overnight. And so will we!” Rightly then Marlo quips, “You’re like a book of fun facts for unpopular fourth graders.” But as Tully’s magical ability to nurse bring Marlo back to life, the audience can’t help but wonder: What’s the catch? There has to be one for, without one, there would be no drama. The drama does unfold, where the offer to help stretches beyond nanny duties.

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The film builds to a big twist that lands far too softly for the stakes that Cody and Reitman have established, but it’s a small price to pay for the pleasure of getting there. Theron and Davis are dynamite together, playing off each other like two sides of the same coin. Theron’s performance is something to see, which hilariously channelises into a familiar kind of resentment.

Davis single-handedly pulls the film over the hump of being a movie about the joys of hiring some new help, transforming the title character into such a delightful manic pixie dream nurse that she always seems a bit unreal; not even the richest people in the world could buy this kind of care.

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Reitman and Cody have made a movie that takes the secret anguish of motherhood head on. Not just the physical demands and the exhaustion, but the entire journey that can make mothers, on their darkest days, feel like they’re losing their minds. That’s a daring thing to try to put into a movie and for this, the filmmakers deserve a salute. Tully has its heart (and many other things) in the right place, but by the end, you wish it had an imagination finely executed enough to match its empathy. It’s a marvellous movie about the lies we tell ourselves to stay sane—and the reasons why we might need to tell the truth.

Tully never pulls at your heartstrings quite as hard as it might, but there’s something beautiful about the way these two women both learn to love themselves, and in a way that also makes it easier for them to love each other.

★★★ 1/2

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