Jason Reitman, director of the critically acclaimed Juno, returns to the topics of motherhood and female identity in the raw and introspective Tully.
Marlo is a mother of two with a baby on-the-way and a wife to a husband who pours his energies into his work by day and into killing zombies in video games by night. The arrival of her soon-to-be newborn severs whatever emotional connection she had with her family. With no substantial support from her husband, Drew, and three demanding children leaving no space for Marlo to tend to herself, she opts to call for a night nanny called Tully. While helping with the new born, Tully also directs Marlo’s attention to facets of her life that Marlo had been neglecting for too long. What begins as straightforward infant care becomes a gritty, wistful path to self-care for Marlo.
Tully is a character-driven comedy/drama focusing almost entirely on Marlo’s relationship with herself and Tully. Charlize Theron and Mackenzie Davis offer compelling performances that deftly bear the weight of attention the film gives their characters. Watching Theron embody the transformation of someone reconnecting to neglected parts of their life was the most affective part of the film. Even so, the film gives enough attention to supporting characters to establish a believable connection between them and Marlo. The parent/teacher meetings about her son create the most empathetic spaces to connect with Marlo.
Hats off to the editor, Stefan Grube, and the entire sound department. Tully will “work” for audiences if they are able to step into Marlo’s chaotic, self-deprived world. There are several sequences in the film edited to initially draw audiences into Marlo’s routines, but then cuts throughout these sequences become sharper and more sporadic all the while closing in on certain objects in each frame. What begins as an entertaining gaze into motherhood unravels into an uncontrollable, never-ending cycle of nurturing others.
Tully’s visual intensity is matched by cacophonies in the sound mix. Whether it is the shriek of a hungry infant, the blast of nostalgic radio music, or the pounding of toddlers’ feet on the back of the driver’s seat, every sound is given the right amount volume and pitch for you to hear all that Marlo hears. Audiences might be able to traverse the emotional spectrum with the sounds of Tully alone.
Despite the clamorous portrayal of motherhood, however, Tully doesn’t vilify motherhood or raising a family; nor are self-liberation and relational independence presented as remedies to a disease generated by traditional family structures. It’s not about doing more of “this” and “less” of that. Tully says to Marlo, “to treat the parts, you have to treat the whole” to which Marlo crassly replies, “no one has treated my hole in a very long time.” There is an ironic truth in her response. Regardless of who we choose to connect with or who we settle down with, if we aren’t engaged with our whole self—practicing genuine self-care—we will always be overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of our world. Tully plants the notion of self-care in relational territories considered hostile to it and manages to demonstrate the wider, positive impact it can have on aspects of life that have only left us drained.