Tully is like the "mom version" of Fight Club, if you swapped the emotional effects of toxic masculinity for those of postpartum depression. I honestly can't quite decide what to make of it, the turn the story takes near the end. It does beg the question: how well will this movie age? I can tell you for certain, Fight Club aged very, very poorly. It now comes across as self-congratulatory and almost oppressively pretentious. What will it be like to watch Tully in twenty years?
With script writer Diablo Cody (Juno, Young Adult), if nothing else, the stories she offers are reliably unique. Tully does indeed show a portrait of modern motherhood that is at once mundane, frustrating, funny, and deeply empathetic -- even for those of us who can't possibly give birth.
Charlize Theron, as Marlo, the mother in question, seems to have a thing for being a beautiful woman who can convincingly play "ugly" -- or at least beaten by exhaustion. "We might look like we're all better," she says, "but if you look close we're all covered in concealer." Theron, now 43, might be sending a message about herself as much as women in general. How would she look if she weren't famous, rich, and were dealing with two young children, one of them with special needs, and a baby? Probably not how she looks at the Academy Awards.
Marlo is pregnant with an unplanned baby, having started with her other kids two years before. Her brother Craig (Mark Duplass), who is much more well off than she is, offers to gift her the serves of a "night nanny," something she predictably scoffs at. But, when she finds herself overwhelmed, the night nanny appears in the form of Tully (a young -- although several years older than her character -- and pointedly thin and pretty Mackenzie Davis). Marlo's husband, Drew, is distracted by his work and playing video games at night and never really sees Tully.
Drew, by the way, is played by Ron Livingston, of Office Space fame, and this turns out to be an odd bit of casting. He and Mark Duplass look remarkably similar, and casting them as brothers in a movie would be and inspired idea. Here, however, they are brothers-in-law, and I found it jarring -- for a second I actually thought they were the same person and was confused. Are we meant to think that instead of the cliché of marrying her father, she effectively married her brother?
But, okay, that's beside the point. The real focus of this story is on Marlo and Tully and their relationship. Perhaps Tully is meant to represent Marlo's idealized vision of her younger self. Tully the movie should certainly be commended for its success in avoiding by-the-numbers storytelling. Usually in a movie about any kind of relationship -- romantic, platonic, whatever -- there comes a conflict that threatens to destroy the relationship, which must then be overcome. Tully does not unfold that way. In fact, Tully and Marlo never have any particularly confrontational moment.
That's not to say there is no conflict. It's just not what you think it is, and once the nature of the conflict is revealed, it puts the entire film into a new light. The Twitter outrage machine is already declaring it "problematic," suggesting it conflates depression with psychosis. One could argue that take reads too much into what the story is trying to say. It actually may be simpler and less sinister than that.
That said, as a storytelling device, I found it a little deflating, and a lot disappointing. For a minute. Somehow, once that disappointment -- which took me out of the movie, never a good thing -- passed, the longtime team of writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman ties things together in a surprisingly touching way. I was won back over with impressive swiftness, wiping away tears brought on a by a final shot that is both beautiful in its simplicity and deeply moving. So, is it a clever glimpse into the mind of modern motherhood, or is it a gimmick? It may take some years of history to judge.