Tully

 

Cast: Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Mark Duplass, Ron Livingston, Elaine Tan, Lia Frankland, Asher Miles Fallica

Director: Jason Reitman

Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes

by Jericho Cerrona

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As a treatise on the barbarity of motherhood, Jason Reitman's Tully might be a spiritual cousin to Darren Aronofsky's polarizing Mother! Of course, Reitman's style is less bombastic and more middlebrow, and yes, no babies are devoured (spoilers!) in this tragicomedy about a depressed mum, but the connections are there. 

Marlo (Charlize Theron) is very pregnant during the opening scenes of Tully, and Reitman makes sure her enlarged belly is prominently featured in closeup. She's also extremely devoted to her son, Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica), who may be on the spectrum. Jonah's teachers constantly refer to the kid as "quirky", because, well, that's something consistently lobbied at screenwriter Diablo Cody (teaming up with Reitman again here for the third time after Juno and Young Adult).

To her credit, Cody has fashioned a more complex protagonist than expected, and unsurprisingly, Theron gives a fearlessly committed performance. The problem is that aside from Marlo, there are no other characters which remotely feel like human beings. Marlo's husband, Drew (Ron Livingston) is the prototypical overworked sad dad who spends his down time playing video games. Her wealthy brother, Craig (Mark Duplass), and sister-in-law, Elyse (Elaine Tan), are caricatures of upper class ignorance. And then there's the titular Tully (Mackenzie Davis), a night nanny brought in to balance out Marlo's hectic lifestyle who remains strangely upbeat at all times. Something, as they say, seems to be amiss here.

Tully tries very hard to comment on postpartum depression and the ways in which women often lose their identity when they become mothers, but Reitman isn't a subtle enough filmmaker to pull this kind of thing off. Cody's dialogue, meanwhile, is less arch than in something like Juno, but just as contrived. As magical-realist flourishes begin cropping up, along with annoying motherhood montages, Tully begins showing its cards as a gimmicky narrative en route to the predictable character epiphany. Had the film trusted its characters (fleshing out the supporting players would have helped) and in turn, the audience, then Reitman may have been able to truly say something about the link between mental illness and child-bearing. The fact that Marlo probably shouldn't have had children in the first place is broached, but ceremoniously brushed off. The film's happy ending feels false. Marlo's maternal problems are real, but in the end, Tully treats them as little more than wish-fulfillment from an unreliable narrator. If Marlo was indeed a English Literature graduate as she claims, then she should have written herself a better script.