At Edinburgh Filmhouse from Fri 8 Jun 2018
After two misfires with the gushy melodrama of Labor Day and the overbearing Men, Women and Children, filmmaker Jason Reitman (Juno) reunites with writer Diablo Cody for Tully – an occasionally sad but often funny, dark dramedy about the struggles of motherhood.
As with the duo’s last collaboration Young Adult, Tully stars Charlize Theron in the lead – with a towering performance reminding us she’s not merely an action star as has been the case for the last few years.
Here she plays Marlo, a mother struggling to juggle the day-to-day issues of her two young children (with an impending third child on the way), while her caring but disconnected husband Drew (Ron Livingston) has to travel for work, and even when home seems somewhat more preoccupied with playing video games than with parenting.
Concerned with his sister’s mental health and her obvious fatigue, Marlo’s well-off brother Craig (Mark Duplass) makes her the bizarre offer of paying for a night nanny to help with the child. Marlo initially turns down the offer, but after the first few weeks of the birth and told through an excruciatingly effective jump-cut montage, changes her mind and contacts the night nanny, Tully (Mackenzie Davis) – a twenty-something hipster Mary Poppins of sorts.
Unsure at first whether she has made the right decision, Marlo and Tully begin to nurture an irreplaceable bond as Tully helps Marlo get her life back on track.
The scenes between Theron and Davis are expertly written, with some fantastic dialogue for the actresses to chew on. The two have a strong chemistry, but as the film progresses they are let down by a third act in which Reitman and Cody opt for a cheap narrative trick, which throws plausibility out the window.
This makes it all the more unsatisfying, as prior to that, the film contained some of Reitman and Cody’s best work. As with Young Adult, the writing was very well-observed and restrained, without the overly cloying and referential dialogue of Cody’s earlier efforts.
In the end, though, Theron holds the film together by giving a fearless, warts-and-all performance, while co-stars Davis, Livingston and Duplass bring a human and lived-in touch to their roles, only to be let down by a very unconvincing final act.