Tully (2018)

Directed by Jason Reitman

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Tully, the third collaboration between writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman, is a story about motherhood.  Like Juno and Young Adult, this is a human comedy, sensitive to its characters and what plagues them.  The humor in these movies feels real, sometimes painfully so.  The Charlize Theron character in Young Adult might feel a tad two-dimensional, but by the end she shows real depth, followed by a sudden reversal that makes the character more frustrating, compelling and honest.  The point of that movie is that some people don’t change, but the stories of Juno and Tully are about inevitable change.

Both films revolve around a pregnancy.  One mother is a teenager for whom the pregnancy runs the duration of the film, and the other mother (Theron) is on her third child, one that will be born early in the story so that we can move onto a more intimate portrait of modern motherhood.

These both feel like coming of age stories precisely because of the inevitability of their respective journeys.  The details escape me, but in Juno you expect the character to grow up and learn something about life through her nine month journey.  In Tully you expect much the same despite the different point in life at which Marlo (Theron) finds herself.

There is nothing romantic or surprising about Marlo’s third pregnancy.  In the span of a few unceremonious cuts (with no music dressing the sequence) her water breaks, she waits at the hospital, she pushes and suddenly the baby has arrived.  Marlo doesn’t dole out much of whatever energy she has left.  The baby shows up like a court summons, and once the visitors finish parading through, she is left to take care of this creature on her own.

Her husband Drew (Ron Livingston) is around as is a brother (Mark Duplass), but they can’t offer what Marlo needs.  That’s why her brother comes up with the idea of hiring a night nanny, someone who will show up at night and take care of all the baby’s needs short of breastfeeding.  Initially resistant to the idea, Marlo endures a few more setbacks before relenting and accepting Tully (Mackenzie Davis) into her life.

Tully operates much like a relationship movie, even romantic in a way.  Tully is 26 and Marlo might be anywhere from her mid-thirties to early-forties.  As much as they open up about themselves, the bulk of their interaction concerns their respective ages.  Marlo expresses severe nostalgia for the age at which Tully finds herself, and the two of them speak in a way you’d expect of Jesse and Celine were they to meet themselves from Before Sunrise.

Life in your twenties versus thirties (and forties) might as well be like living on a different planet.  The upstate suburbia to which Marlo feels restrained is a far cry from her adult youth in Bushwick.  The film’s climax concerns an impulsive trip into the city and down memory lane.

For a story so ingrained in relatable, human emotions, there is a spell of mysticism to Tully, complete with a recurring dream that will remind you of The Shape of Water.  This isn’t a fairtytale, but on some level it is.  That relationship between Marlo and Tully evolves in so many unexpected ways.  You might see them as mother-daughter, as sisters or best friends.  You even see them as therapist-patient, though the roles between them are never rigid.

Their relationship evolves exclusively through nighttime visits, apart from the rest of the world, helping capture this sensation of something like a fairytale.  Maybe I’m just a sucker for these kinds of stories, but I’ve always felt like these kinds of relationships stand apart from the real world anyways, and I think Tully manages to capture this blend of realism and dreamy nostalgia.  As much as we live in the physical world aren’t we also lost somewhere in our minds, whether imagination or memory?

There is a heavier turn to the personal journey here in Tully, though it never strays far from the whimsical beaten path.  The story arc may feel politely adjusted to fit a conventional feature film narrative, but many of the beats still resonate nonetheless.  Tully is a beautifully messy, honest depiction of life shaped ever so slightly to be told in the requisite runtime of a movie as modest as this one.

Up Next: Overlord (1975), F for Fake (1973), It (2017)

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