Friday, November 23, 2018

Girl Week 2018: Tully


It's Day 5 of Girl Week 2018 and we're still going strong. I'll not waste any more time, and just get started.

Directed by Jason Reitman.
2018. Rated R, 96 minutes.
Cast:
Charlize Theron
Mackenzie Davis
Ron Livingston
Mark Duplass
Asher Miles Fallica
Colleen Wheeler
Elaine Tan
Maddie Dixon-Poirier
Gameela Wright
Lia Frankland

I might have to rewatch this.

That's not something I like to admit right at the beginning of a review. It's not that movies never perplex me. Some do. bt that's usually a conclusion I build to as I'm writing my way through it. These are often purposely murky mind-benders. Tully isn't one of those. In this case, the film and I share victimhood. We both fell prey to my expectations. I spent half the movie looking for it to be something else. It wasn't until late when I really settled into a groove.

I didn't come into Tully quite as cold as I should have. As with most movies I watch, I didn't bother with the trailer. However, I couldn't make heads or tails of it from the poster. Trouble started when I plugged the title into the Google search box. Lots of blurbs popped up exclaiming its greatness. Most of them also told me one other thing - this is a comedy. In fact, they consistently called it one of 2018's best and smartest comedies. For that reason, I saved it for the end of a particularly stressful weekday when a good laugh was needed to remind me to set my alarm clock the next morning. I never did get that laugh, but eventually, I got over it.

I was able to get over it because Tully is good enough to overcome my preconceived notions. As in most movies, the process begins with our protagonist. Here, it's Marlo (Theron). We meet her just before she gives birth to her third child with her husband Ron (Livingston). We're tipped off that this pregnancy might not have been the best idea because she's having a terribly difficult time with the two she already has. She's especially struggling with her son Jonah (Fallica). He appears to have some form of autism, but he hasn't been officially diagnosed. When triggered, he goes from 0 to 100 in a snap while she can barely keep from doing the same. This is understandable, but you wonder what she will do with an infant thrown into the mix. Sure enough, the baby comes and things continue to deteriorate. She's not getting any sleep, the administrators at Jonah's school have asked her to remove him, and postpartum depression has set in. Everyone in her life notices, including her rich brother Craig (Duplass). He offers to pay for a "night nanny," someone to come in and tend to the baby at  night while Marlo catches up on some much needed rest. At first, she scoffs at the idea of a stranger taking care of her child while she slept. She relents, soon enough, and one shows up at her door in the form of Tully (Davis), a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed twentysomething who seems to have all the right answers. The two become fast friends, giving Marlo a new lease on life.


The first of two main things this film  leans on is the writing. Our main character is a woman who lives in a house full of people, yet feels totally alone. She's also burdened with maintaining the worlds of everyone in her house. The one person she should get help from, Ron, is too oblivious to give it to her. He recognizes she's having a tough go of it, and he does help a bit with homework and evening chores, we're told. However, once he gets his headphones on and a game controller in his hand, he's absent from Marlo's universe. When Tully shows up, it's as if she rode down from Heaven on the hand of God and stepped off at Marlo's front door. Diablo Cody's script conveys all of this in a way that jumps off the screen. We feel the walls closing in on her, feel claustrophobic, and breathe a sigh of relief whenever they seem to stop. The circumstances and conditions of her life became as much our cross to bear as it is hers. Simultaneously, even through the best of times, Cody never lets us fully trust Tully. Ulterior, but mysterious motives drip from her pores. We're not sure if those motives are good or not. Still, there's a charm to her we have a hard time refusing. Marlo finds Tully impossible to resist.

This brings us to the other thing carrying this film - Charlize Theron's performance. Cody penned a great screenply, but it wouldn't fly without Theron's thorough embodiment of every line of dialogue, every screen direction, plus whatever of herself she brought to the set. It's an exhaustive and exhausting portrayal of a woman who often appears at her wit's end and physical limitations. At other times, she's all sunshine and bubblegum. We never feel either isn't true. She makes us recognize that she's always at a particular point on her personal rollercoaster. Not a moment goes by that we don't want to give her a hug, a high-five, or a sense implanting slap upside the head. No matter, we're willing to endure the ride with Theron as our most capable conductor. Her unvarying skill is needed because that ride is a distressing one. It starts in a not-so-happy place and quickly descends from there.

Now we can talk some more about my expectations. I thought I was getting a nice stream of chuckles while watching a mom navigate life. What I got was repeated kicks to the gut. I get that dark comedy finds humor in unlikely subjects and circumstances, but this isn't that. At least, it doesn't feel like it. It's dispiriting, mostly. Who are the people laughing at this and what is wrong with them? I'll own up to a few giggles, here and there, but they're uneasy, soiled by sadness, and only good for stemming oncoming tide of tears. A steady examination of depression and mental illness has a way of provoking that type of laughter. The brilliance of Tully is that it not only ends on a hopeful note, but it doesn't feel forced. It feels like a reward. Ending up in the sunlight, even if just barely, is our prize for traversing so much gloomy terrain.


Day 4's Girl Week Entries
Fernby Films reviews Basic Instinct


24 comments:

  1. I do want to see this as I like any kind of collaboration between Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody as I think they work best when they're with each other. Plus, I think Charlize in that equation makes the collaboration even better as I really enjoyed Young Adult though I haven't seen some of Reitman's recent films.

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    Replies
    1. Reitman and Cody do make a good team. Young Adult tread similar territory, but made better use of its dark sense of humor. Still, this is definitely worth a watch.

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  2. Theron and Davis were both great in this, but I had a few issues. I know a lot of people were upset with how they handled Marlow's mental illness but a few other things rubbed me the wrong way aside from that personally. But I'm still glad I watched it.

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    1. They were great. I went back to your site and read your review and commented there.

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  3. I still have to see this but I know so many adored this movie. It sounds more like a dramedy. I will give this a try but I think your review hits things on the head just from what i saw from the trailers

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    1. It is technically a dramedy, but very light on the comedy part of that word. Thanks!

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  4. I think the humour worked a little better for me. I didn't think the movie was hilarious though. That would be sick. Other than that, I agree with you on everything, especially on Theron's performance. That woman blows me away every time I watch her. Great review!

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    Replies
    1. Glad you got some humor from it, I just couldn't. Theron is a true master of her craft.

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  5. I haven't gone out of my way to see this because of Diablo Cody's involvement. I thought Juno was overpraised to the skies, Young Adult just okay and Ricki and the Flash rather blah so when this was heaped with praise I assumed it was another case of overkill. I do like Charlize Theron a great deal and now that you've clarified the actual tone of the film I'll give it a go eventually but it still doesn't sound like something I'm burning to see.

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    1. Cody can definitely rub some people the wrong way. I agree Juno was overrated, but I did enjoy it. I really liked Young Adult. I also agree Ricki and the Flash was blah. Jennifer's Body, her horror that I'm guessing you haven't watched, was not as terrible as I initially thought, but her overly quirky dialogue is dialed up to 1000 making it pretty unbearable.

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  6. I too don't understand advertising this as comedy. Jesus, this was a horror show!

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  7. This one confused me too and the tonal shifts between sadness and jokes makes for an odd viewing experience. Tully is more melancholy and less entertaining than Juno and Young Adult, though I agree might be interesting to rewatch (because of the twist ending)

    The latest news is Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman are re-teaming again for an HBO comedy series starring David Spade

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