A truly female take on life in a memorable if eventually misjudged film.


The mother of all maternities: Charlize Theron


This is the time to put my cards on the table. The writer Diablo Cody has many fans but I am not really one of them. Although I rather liked Juno (2007), I was surprised when she won an Oscar for it and I found 2011's Young Adult unsatisfactory as a whole. Nevertheless, from its opening moments I felt that her third work with director Jason Reitman, Tully, would finally find me on her wavelength. In all three films the fact that the director is a man has not prevented them from emerging as works in which Cody is the presiding spirit - and never more so than in this new piece which, like Young Adult, features Charlize Theron in the leading role.


If Cody's work regularly views life from a female perspective, that is even more emphatically the case in Tully. Theron plays a New Yorker expecting her third child. This is Marlo and her experience of motherhood is at the heart of this film. Far from being sentimental about it, Cody stresses the domestic strains as well as the exhaustion of giving birth again. As usual her work contains humour, but within everyday reality she finds drama: indeed, her themes this time extend to Marlo's sense that, as she approaches her forties, her whole life has, in a way so contrary to her youthful dreams, sunk into routine. She still loves her husband, Drew (Ron Livingston), but embroiled as he is in his work he regularly arrives home tired and their sex life is now negligible.


It is due to Marlo's well-off brother, Craig (Mark Duplass), that when the third baby, a girl, arrives, Marlo is gifted the aid of a night nanny. Named Tully and played by Mackenzie Davis, she is not immediately welcomed, but she soon bonds with Marlo and brings a new energy to bear that will transform the couple's lives. The men are relatively marginal here and it is Theron, on her top form, and Davis, creating an individual character out of what might have been a Mary Poppins stereotype, who carry the film. Reitman's direction is properly sensitive to what is required and early on there is an extended montage sequence that speaks volumes about a mother's daily existence in the home.


Given all that, my relatively low rating for Tully must seem strange, but two-thirds of the way through the narrative suddenly becomes less convincing and starts to lose its sense of direction. When we do realise where we are headed, it comes courtesy of what could be called a plot twist that emerges out of the blue: actually, it's even more than that since it plunges the film into a genre quite distinct from the one it has occupied up to that point. For me this derails the movie, which is ironic since the last scene of all is beautifully judged and works on the quietest, most naturalistic level. This development throws the film into question but much of it works splendidly and Theron and Davis, with sound support from Livingston in particular, give performances that cry out to be seen.




Cast: Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Mark Duplass, Ron Livingston, Asher Miles Fallica, Lia Frankland, Elaine Tan, Gameela Wright, Maddie Dixon-Poirier, Joshua Pak, Diane Lane.


Dir Jason Reitman, Pro Aaron L. Gilbert, Jason Reitman, Helen Estabrook, Diablo Cody, Mason Novick, Charlize Theron, A.J. Dix and Beth Kono, Screenplay Diablo Cody, Ph Eric Steelberg, Pro Des Anastasia Masaro, Ed Stefan Grube, Music Rob Simonsen, Costumes Aleisha Li.


Bron Studios/Right of Way Films/Denver and Delilah Productions-Universal Pictures.
96 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 4 May 2018. Cert. 15.