Film Review: “Tully” Mixes Promise and Platitudes

Film poster: “Tully”

Tully (Jason Reitman, 2018) out of 4 stars.

The third collaboration between director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody, who previously brought us Juno and Young Adult, Tully stars Charlize Theron, who played the lead in that second movie, as well. Here, she’s Marlo, a stressed-out middle-class mother of two, whose husband, though faithful and caring, is always at work, leaving the bulk of the child-rearing to her. With a third kid on the way, Marlo’s not sure how she’ll manage. Until, that is, her wealthy brother offers to pay for a “night nanny” to help with the extra burden, referencing some major postpartum depression that sis suffered through last time. Though at first resistant, Marlo relents once things get too tough. Welcome to the home, Tully!

Who knew this was a thing? People with money, I suppose. In any case, this movie worried me a lot, at first, seeming to go in one unfortunate direction, extolling the virtues of a helpmate that few can afford. Instead, it becomes something much richer, exploring the toll that parenthood – primarily motherhood – can take on many people, in this frantic modern world of ours, especially those without the means to farm out labor to others. Tully also examines the bitter pill of youthful dreams unrealized. It’s too bad that so much of the writing, of both dialogue and situation, is trapped in first-draft triteness. Kudos to everyone for trying, though …

Charlize Theron in “Tully” ©Focus Features

One thing is clear, however, whatever one may think of the film and its script: this is not a comedy, despite the efforts of all involved to market it as such. Perhaps it’s a dramedy, but not even that, really. No, it’s a well-intentioned effort (in need of revisions) at drama, with a few occasional light touches. Don’t go in expecting a barrel of laughs, as you’ll be in for disappointment.

Still, Theron delivers a fine performance, and so does Mackenzie Davis (Always Shine), as the titular character. Ron Livingston (Addicted to Fresno), as Drew, Marlo’s hubby, is his usual appealing self, and Mark Duplass (Creep 2), as the rich sibling, adds a few quality notes. It’s more than watchable, but also almost dispiritingly obvious and simplistic, by the end. Truths are stated, lessons learned, and platitudes spoken. Got it. Check. On to the next thing.

Mackenzie Davis in “Tully” ©Focus Features

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About chrisreedfilm

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is lead film critic at hammertonail.com, an online magazine devoted to independent cinema; a regular film critic here at filmfestivaltoday.com; the host of Dragon Digital Media’s award-winning "Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed"; a film commentator for the "Roughly Speaking” podcast with Dan Rodricks at "The Baltimore Sun"; and the author of "Film Editing: Theory and Practice." In addition, he is one of three co-creators, along with Summre Garber of Slamdance and Bart Weiss of Dallas VideoFest, of "The Fog of Truth" (fogoftruth.com) – available on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher – a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.
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