Tully (2018) (Review)

Even when you think you know what Tully is about, it manages to surprise you. Proceeding the film's release, there was a quiet warning that the Jason Reitman-directed picture about the trials and tribulations of motherhood would not be your typical tale of the unbreakable bond between mother and child, going a little bit deeper than its premise may suggest instead. It has provoked a somewhat divisive, divided reaction from audiences and a rather limited release in general -- but this is an underseen gem I implore you to seek out.

After experiencing post-natal depression following the birth of her first child, Marlo's (Charlize Theron) family begin to worry as she approaches the due date of her third. Her brother suggests a Night Nanny (Mackenzie Davis) to ease the pressure, who arrives with an insightful wisdom that will enlighten and change Marlo forever. Also starring Mark Duplass and Ron Livingston, and written by Diablo Cody in his fourth collaboration with Reitman, Tully is a powerful and profound rumination on motherhood and reconnection that will strike a chord with those who let it.

Knowing where to start reviewing a film like Tully is quite the task: it begins as a rather straightforward examination of motherhood that becomes increasingly tinged with a surrealism (best unspoiled) that really elevates it to higher ground. As the tight 96 minutes tick on, you find yourself falling more and more for Tully, pulled into the world and relationships so excellently sketched by Cody's screenplay. As the Marlo/Tully bond develops, you find yourself on tenterhooks, awaiting the presumed twist -- and thankfully, it pretty much nails the landing, executed fantastically on the page and on the screen.

Reitman does an admirable job at bringing the difficult-to-balance elements to the screen as effectively as he does. It remains pretty uncomplicated throughout but with flourishes of wonderfully ethereal filmmaking carefully scattered throughout; its incorporation of these moments are inspired while ensuring they never dilute the candid approach to the theme of motherhood that is so crucial to the narrative. It features a really tremendous piece of editing in the form of a montage sequence pretty early on in the film, with Stefan Grube earning his keep for this minute-long moment alone. All of this is enhanced further by a strong score from Rob Simonsen (fresh from his wonderful work in Love, Simon).

At the centre of Tully is a startling duo of performances from an unrecognisable Charlize Theron and a magnetic Mackenzie Davis, both as compelling and impressive as the other. They form a tremendous chemistry that is needed in order to sell one of the film's major plot points, fantastically effervescent and layered. Theron's transformative turn is utterly believable and embodied in every moment while Davis' wide-eyed Tully is endlessly engaging, as wonderful here as she was in Black Mirror's crowning achievement, San Junipero. Perhaps we're too far out to be discussing Oscar nominations, but they'd certainly be on my 'in contention' list at this early stage.

Tully and its bold, potentially-alienating ending won't work for everyone and some will likely be unimpressed by the bait-and-switch conclusion - but there's an inherent beauty about the message and the film's unique framing of it, as well as the characters' abilities to bring out the best in one and other, matched by the actor's capability to do the same. It rarely pulls its punches, particularly emotionally, finding a deft, sharp balance thematically and tonally. There are some genuine laugh-out-loud moments peppered throughout and more than a handful of searingly smart observations -- but most striking (and, I'd argue, important) is the amount of heart found within. Tully is a truly lovely, ruthlessly honest and considered picture that will float around your mind for days.  I want to rewatch it right now, and that's as high a compliment as I can pay it. Go see it.


Summary: Tully's candid and honest exploration of motherhood makes for a beautiful, touching and surprisingly funny film elevated further by two exceptional performances from an unrecognisable Charlize Theron and a magnetic Mackenzie Davis.