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SFIFF Review: TULLY: Reitman, Cody, & Theron Win Big Again

With the help of Theron and Davis' magnetic chemistry, Cody and Reitman's synergy, and an intricate yet touching story about motherhood, Tully perfectly blends comedy and drama, creating a powerful, tender meditation on societal stigmas.

Oscar Nominee Jason Reitman (Thank You For Smoking, Juno, Up In The Air), son of legendary director and producer Ivan Reitman (Animal House, Stripes, Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters II), has carried the torch from his father quite far in this industry. His latest film, Tully, stars Charlize Theron, whose career was honored at the 2018 San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) after the screening of Tully. Premiering at Sundance Film Festival, Tully is about the ups and downs of motherhood and the stigma of postpartum depression.

Tully is the third film that Reitman and Diablo Cody, who won an Oscar for her screenwriting debut, Juno, Reitman’s sophomoric directorial effort, have collaborated on. Reitman, Cody, and Theron then teamed up on Young Adult in 2011. Reitman and Theron were both in attendance for the SFIFF Tully screening for a Q&A, during which Theron explained when asked why the three work so well together:

“We’re all around the same age…I’m a little older. And we have a very specific sense of humor that’s very much in line with all three of us. We have different backgrounds – we come from different worlds – and so we’re different people. And yet, somehow when we all sit at a table together, it just works. And it’s almost like asking, ‘why does a marriage work?’ And I don’t know if you can answer it; when it works, you know it works. You almost don’t want to fuck with it. So, I try to not overanalyze it, and I’m just really happy they invited me to the party.”

Theron went on to explain that she hopes that, after Tully is released to the masses, its message will chip away at some of the stigma surrounding postpartum depression and mental illness. Tully is a remarkable film, one that moves along at a brisk pace; it under-stays its welcome with its 96-minute runtime. It may just be Reitman‘s finest directorial effort.

The Full-Time Job Of Motherhood And Its Toll

Tully is about a mother of three children, including a newborn, named Marlo (Theron). Struggling to manage, her brother, Craig (Mark Duplass), hires a night nanny named Tully (Mackenzie Davis of Black Mirror‘s “San Junipero” episode) to ease some of the pressure off of her. The two form a singular bond as they navigate the difficulties of day-to-day life as women raising children together. Marlo’s husband, Drew (Ron Livingston playing to his everyman strengths), loves his children and is as emotionally supportive as he can be. However, due to his demanding job, he isn’t around as much as he should be to take some of the load off of Marlo, who seems to be the only one tending to their newborn.

SFIFF Review: TULLY: Reitman, Cody, & Theron Win Big Again

source: Focus Features

Marlo fell into a deep postpartum depression after the birth of their son Jonah. There’s something off about her when she gives birth to Mia, her newborn. Reitman subtly sprinkles in foreshadowing and some warning signs: Jonah has behavioral issues at school and experiences trouble adjusting to new environments. In the beginning of Tully, Marlo runs into an old friend at a coffee shop. Upon seeing that Marlo is pregnant, her friend is taken aback, worried, and almost disturbed. Marlo has consistent, recurring nightmares and seems emotionally detached as soon as Mia is born. Her kids run amok, symbolically, strategically placed behind a curtain in one scene as Theron tries to get some rest, as if to convey how tuned out she is. There are other clues, but they are integral to uncovering a drastic reveal towards the end of Tully.

Marlo’s brother interprets her exhaustion as a sign that she’s just tired and needs some help around the house with the kids, so he hires a night nanny as a baby gift.

Tully Who?

At first hesitant to have somebody else take care of her child, and, by transitive property, her, after several sleepless nights, Marlo finally gives in. The mysterious night nanny named Tully arrives and changes everything. Tully is young, eternally kind, free-spirited, and challenges Marlo to see motherhood in a different light in a non-threatening manner. Davis‘ unbridled naïveté, youthfulness, outwardly endless energy, and zen vibes offset Theron‘s mature, ill-tempered, gloomy, and moody demeanor in their respective roles. Theron described working with Davis as challenging and rewarding, saying that the young actor is going far in this industry.

SFIFF Review: TULLY: Reitman, Cody, & Theron Win Big Again

source: Focus Features

Tully represents Marlo’s youth, who she “once was.” This construct of thinking, however, is a falsity. Marlo is still that person; she thinks that being a mother has taken away a part of her, some part of her that made her unique. Tully is there equally to care for Mia as well as to make sure that Marlo abandons this pattern of thinking. Together, they bond; Tully has an inexplicable magic touch. She even helps spice up Marlo’s previously nonexistent sex life. However, who is Tully outside of Marlo’s home? What does she do during the day? What are her true intentions with Marlo’s family?

Reitman, Cody, & Theron: The Dreamteam

I’m a sucker for montages. One could say it’s a weak spot of mine. As such, I tend to have high standards for these time-traveling cinematic sequences. Reitman and Cody, with the help of composer Rob Simonsen (The Way Way Back, The Spectacular Now, Foxcatcher) and editor Stefan Grube (10 Cloverfield Lane), craft, arguably the best montage of the 21st century in Tully. In this sequence, they painstakingly capture the day-to-day routine of caring for a newborn. It’s done with such style, such a perfect blend of comedy, drama, and empathy, that the viewer won’t want it to end. It’s an apt representation of the film as a whole.

SFIFF Review: TULLY: Reitman, Cody, & Theron Win Big Again

source: Focus Features

The audience was so transfixed by the film, they could’ve watched this dual character study unfold for another two hours, judging by the uproarious laughter and quiet gasps and sniffles. Cody‘s script is brilliant. It doesn’t reveal too much until the very end. Tully is billed as a dramedy, but it is also, at its core, a mystery. And this mystery unfolds enthrallingly. Whereas her other pregnancy film, Juno, dealt with a teen struggling to adapt to a world that frowned upon teen pregnancies, Tully deals with a mother struggling to adapt to a world seemingly indifferent to postpartum depression and what mothers endure.

Theron can do no wrong. Tully is the sixteenth film that the 20-year veteran has produced. She puts every ounce of energy into making a character seem real, transparent, and tangible. The film may be her best performance of the decade.

Tully: Not To Be Missed

One should never take a film a face value. Especially Tully. The third act is genuinely surprising in the best way possible, even shocking at times. Marlo and Tully are both three-dimensional characters that feel like they live in the real world; one could have an interaction with them at a coffee shop and not feel like they were just in a scenario straight out of a movie. Credit Cody‘s writing for its realism and Reitman‘s impressive direction, which captures every character quirk and packs every scene with an abundance of imagery and symbolism. Tully is that rare mainstream film that tackles issues that people don’t usually want to confront because it makes them uncomfortable.

With the help of Theron and Davis‘ magnetic chemistry, Cody and Reitman‘s synergy, and an intricate yet touching story about motherhood, Tully perfectly blends comedy and drama, creating a powerful, tender meditation on societal stigmas.

Which is your favorite Charlize Theron performance? Are you a fan of Reitman and Cody’s work?

Tully opens in the U.S. and UK theatrically on May 4, 2018. For more information on its release, click here.

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Alex Arabian is a film critic, journalist, and freelance filmmaker. His work has been featured in the San Francisco Examiner, AwardsCircuit.com, and PopMatters.com. His favorite film is Edward Scissorhands. It goes without saying that not all films are good, per se, but he believes that he owes the artists contributing to the medium film analyses that are insightful, well-informed, and respectful to craft. Check out more of his work on makingacinephile.com!