Perhaps more so than any other film to date, “Tully” manages to sell the challenges of parenthood as a phase of life that desperately calls for the full devotion of exactly where one’s life has ended up.
Charlize Theron plays a mother in the throes of depression that has recently given birth to her third child, while already struggling to stay mentally, physically, and financially afloat with her husband, played by Ron Livingstone, who wants to support his family as best as he can but struggles with how to do so for his wife. Exacerbating these problems are the developmental issues of her young son, who’s beginning to exhibit signs of autism forcing the family to relocate the children to a new school. Overwhelmed by the stress of family issues and the burden a newborn baby, she’s convinced, at the suggestion of her brother, to hire Tully, a night nanny who stays with the family overnight in order to tend to the baby while she is allowed a night of sleep.
As a result of sharing the responsibility of raising the baby girl over the course of several months, the two begin to bond, reminding the mother, Marlo, that even though she is the anchor of the family, she is still human and has no hope of keeping everybody together if she can’t figure out how to appropriately tend to her own needs.
The story of “Tully” at first glance would appear to take cue from the “quirky stranger whirlwinds the lives of the family as a learning experience” premise similar to films like “Mary Poppins” or “Visitor Q,” which is something that the characters even joke about when contemplating the odd concept of hiring a “night nanny” to begin with. As mentioned before however, the filmmaking is what really sells it.
Seeing Theron, as a woman clearly battling her own mental and emotional demons before delivering a newborn life into the world, struggle to keep up with every challenge she faces on a daily basis while simultaneously tending to the comforting and breastfeeding of an infant is flat out maddening to watch.
Watching the utter chaos unfolding around her as she simply waits for it all to wash over her helplessly while trying to maintain a level-enough head to keep moving forward is like witnessing a psychological horror movie to the point where I was damn near expecting some scenarios to end in some sort of tragic abusive violence. It may be far too early in the year to discuss Oscar nominees but if Theron doesn’t at least get mentioned in the buzz of the season, I will be sorely disappointed.
Once the titular nanny arrives however, things take an unexpected yet tasteful turn in favor of reconstructing the thoroughly deconstructed myth of the perfect suburban mother while addressing a myriad of other complex and intimate issues regarding relationships, age, emotional health, and selflessness through observing the highs and lows of youthful independence and settling into parental status.
At the heart of this exploration is Tully herself, whose talk of spiritual connections via biological relationships and cultivating love in whatever healthy form that it takes, traditional or otherwise, could easily have rendered her a stereotypical manic pixie dream girl.
Fortunately, Mackenzie Davis delivers on a superb performance that keeps her character consistently grounded and humanized via a healthy sense of humor and an occasional bleed over of her own personal problems into her work. It perfectly masks a certain hidden nature to her character that draws attention away from context clues given throughout the film, culminating in a twist so obvious that it should be lauded for being executed as effortlessly as it was.
While aspects of that twist may also raise questions of why the envelope wasn’t pushed just a bit further, as well as copping out on a few rather bold territories the film seemed to be hinting at venturing down, “Tully” is a masterfully crafted dramatic comedy that isn’t always comfortable to sit through but aptly so, reminding us that many of the most important things that we have to face in our lives if we hope to live happy and healthily, are uncomfortable challenges that will only get worse if we run away from them.
4 out of 5
Graduating from Texas A&M University—Commerce with a bachelor's degree in News and Editorial Journalism, Jordan Wright has lived most of his adult life professionally critiquing films, from major blockbusters to indie dramas, and has no intentions of stopping.