Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Ron Livingston, Mark Duplass
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…Tully is a rich, rewarding and raggedly honest delight.
When screenwriter, Diablo Cody, and director, Jason Reitman, dropped the breakout success, Juno, in 2007, they were instantly anointed the hottest thing in Hollywood. And if there’s one thing a hot talent can be assured of, it’s that they will very soon cool down. But despite the tilting of their instant-credibility-crowns, the pair continued to do strong work, even reuniting for the biting 2011 comedy drama, Young Adult, starring Charlize Theron. With little fanfare, the creative duo is back together again for Tully, and prove once again that even though the spotlight might no longer be shining so bright, their gifts for wit, invention, warmth, rich characterisation, and empathy remain happily undimmed.
Marlo (Charlize Theron) is doing it tough. She’s got two school-age kids (one of whom displays behaviour that has seen him euphemistically labelled “quirky”) and a newborn to contend with, along with a decent but distant husband (Ron Livingston), and a seemingly never ending pile of bills to pay. Marlo gets a break, however, when she reluctantly allows her wealthy brother (Mark Duplass) to pay for a “night nanny” called Tully (Mackenzie Davis) to help her with her baby in the wee small hours so she can get some much needed sleep. The relationship between Marlo and Tully, however, soon becomes much more complicated than that of employer and employee.
While Diablo Cody’s snappy-but-you’d-only-hear-it-in-movies dialogue is again on display (“His factory setting is asshole,” Marlo says of her brother, Craig) and Reitman’s knack for a retro-hip musical cue (will the film see a resurgence of interest in The Jayhawks and Cyndi Lauper?) hasn’t been lost, the duo’s real strength is the obvious love that they have for their deeply flawed characters. Back to her Monster fighting weight, Charlize Theron is brilliant as Marlo, and you can practically feel the actress being pushed forward encouragingly by Reitman and Cody. She’s fierce and funny, and gritty and real in a truly profound way that goes way beyond her in-plain-sight “dressing down” for the role.
While obvious pokes are made at Mackenzie Davis’ too-cool hipster free spirit, she too is a deeply loveable character, and the chemistry between the on-the-rise actress (who has the shambolic charm and energy of a young Laura Dern) and Charlize Theron is palpable. Even the initially less sympathetic characters of Marlo’s husband (who spends most of his spare time gaming) and brother (the film’s whip smart evisceration of his privileged lifestyle is utterly hilarious) are soon revealed to have many more layers than first expected, with Ron Livingston and, in particular, Mark Duplass, delivering superb performances.
Speaking powerfully to the difficulties of raising children (especially those that offer their own particular joys and challenges), and digging right into the grainy realities of real life, Tully takes on serious issues with an admirably light touch. It’s pithy and funny, but it never takes its eyes off the higher stakes at hand. And while a late-game turn will unquestionably polarise audiences, Tully is a rich, rewarding, and raggedly honest delight.