Friday, May 11, 2018

Review: TULLY

Third-time mother to be, Marlo runs a ritual brush over her son's legs and arms as the credits roll. It's the quietest moment we'll see for a good swag of screen time as we are plunged into the daily noise, struggles and teetering of a young family. The boy is being gradually squeezed from the conventional school system for being "quirky". The girl is beginning to have confidence issues. With the new one due soon there only be more of this. At night Marlo goes up to bed and collapses beside her husband as he taps at a game console. Gen X married with children.

Resisting her brother's offer to pay for a night nanny once the baby comes she yet notices how orderly and peaceful his three-child house is when over there for dinner. She takes the post-it with the nanny's number. A few weeks later of constant mounting family and post-natal strain and she finds the note in her purse. That night the radiant and bright-eyed Tully appears at the door and, after a few points of establishment, sends Marlo off to bed. The next day the house is spotless and the morning after a long sleep holds the memory only of being gently woken to nurse the new addition.

The pair establish a quick rapport and Tully's spacy new-age ways allow Marlo a way back to the person she's had to suppress in favour of the parental altruism she has had to learn. Some rich dialogue later and we've got the makings of a charming girl-buddy movie. And that's what we get, for awhile. The rest is spoilers.

Director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody might well be offering this as a kind of touchpoint in their careers as the spectre of maturity looms over them as it does their characters here. Where Juno and Young Adult wrestled with questions of responsibility and many instances (not always centre screen) of denial of it, Tully offers a controlled scream at the inevitability of accepting it. Cody's script, laced with great one-liners, offers more measured reflection rather than youthful dazzle. Reitman frames it as it lifts from the grind of daily life to the moments of elation subtly, keeping to a sober (some might say drab) pallet which gives it a kind of Gen X art house functional look.

Charlize Theron drags us into the strained musculature of a veteran parent but keeps her head above the quicksand with an expert delivery of lines that a writer like Cody has saved for her. The film depends on this pendulum working and constantly. It must takes us through the exhausting montage of the new baby routines and white knuckle negotiations with her difficult son. But it must also allow us to accept the sense of healing that begins when her exchanges with the younger Tully develop and the emotional bruises come to light. For her part Mackenzie Davis must strike a balance between a kind of coddled youthful wisdom and vulnerability for this to happen. It's a thankless performance until the third act allows us perspective. Not to diminish the contribution of Ron Livingston and Mark Duplass who I could watch in anything but this really is Theron's and Davis' movie.

It's always a pleasure to be so surprised by a film that your reservations even half way through are dismissed by such good work. Well, work is what it is, work to run a family, work to deal with constant pressure, work to let one's own youth pass into its rooms serving as practical memory rather than lulling through nostalgia. But surprised I was, starting happily enough in front of a witty look at the trials of the first world but staying for the real dialogue and admitting the job it was doing.

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