It’s easy for anyone to feel as if they are overworked and underappreciated, and for the stress of that work to pile up so much to the point where you begin to question what the point of it all is, or what reasons we have to continue doing it. What’s much harder though is to remember to treat your own personal well-being with as much love and care that you treat your work, whether that be in your family, your relationship, or in your job. In continually working to try taking care of someone else, it can become startlingly easy to forget that the most important person that you need to take care of first and foremost is yourself. While that may sound like a selfish thing to think, it’s important to recognize that if you neglect to take care of yourself mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually, it becomes much harder to take care of anyone else, and that is what Tully is meant to remind us.
Self-described by its trailer as being “A Story About Motherhood in 2018”, Tully is the third collaboration between director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody after Juno, which Cody won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and Young Adult, which also starred Charlize Theron. As opposed to the delusional, careless, immature character still stuck in her teenage years that Theron played in that film, her character of Marlo in Tully is almost the complete opposite. Marlo is an overly stressed out and cynical middle-aged mother of three high-maintenance children, including a newborn infant. After an expertly edited montage of Marlo’s numerous sleepless nights caring for this new baby, and reaching a breaking point of personal stress, feeling completely out of options, she reluctantly hires a night nanny–the title character Tully (played by Mackenzie Davis)– to help her care for the baby. What Marlo didn’t expect was for her new nanny to also help her take care of herself as well. Their performances anchored by a strong chemistry between the pair offers insightful depictions of life philosophy at its varying stages.
Theron’s performance, both physically and emotionally, is such an honest embodiment of an overworked, worn-out mother of three, which serves as a fitting counterbalance to Tully’s youthful optimism. Described by Marlo as being like “A book of fun facts for unpopular fourth graders”, Tully in her seemingly infinite wisdom, speaks almost exclusively in new age parenting methods and life philosophies, which initially make Marlo feel immediately dismissive of this single 20-something who hasn’t become jaded and beaten down by life yet to truly understand the reality of parenthood. As she becomes more active in Marlo’s life, we see how Tully’s teachings and her overall presence begin to change Marlo; how her relationships with her children and with her husband, and how her outlook on life and family change for the better.
Divergent life philosophies gives way to strong interplay between Theron and Davis that carries Tully throughout.
For the first two thirds at least, the film maintains its grounded realistic tone, not too dissimilar from any of Reitman and Cody’s previous works. In the third act, however, the film introduces a twist that veers the movie into an unexpected territory of magical realism, almost borderline supernaturalism. A marked departure for a movie that had been a consistent slice-of-life family drama up until this point, such a shift feels out of place for the type of film that it had established itself as being. The twist also adds elements that artificially heighten the dramatic stakes in the latter half of the film which it didn’t need in order to convey its message.
While the twist’s execution and placement in the film are a tonal whiplash, its existence doesn’t negate or undercut the ultimate message of the film, and conceptually in some ways, it actually does fit well with Reitman and Cody’s core message: a firm affirmation that the only person who can truly fix you is yourself.