I really liked the Jason Reitman directed film “Juno” from a decade ago. The main reason it was so great was the script by Diablo Cody. Well here they are together again and they have come up with something different. It has many of the same qualities of their award winning earlier collaboration, but there are some left turns in the story that make it a completely different animal. In the long run, it is the kind of animal that you watch from a distance and admire, rather than a puppy or kitten that you take up in your arms and embrace whole heartedly.
Charlize Theron is a strong performer. She has immense talent, but sometimes it seems that she only gets credit for that talent when she is willing to deny her other great attribute, her beauty. In this film, the story tellers go a long way to make the character of Marlo seem average. She appears at first as an extremely pregnant woman, who’s distended belly can’t be contained in her clothes. Theron manages to have a weary expression on her face through most of the encounters she has. Even when giving birth,she looks more like she needs a nap than pain killers. After she has given birth, the everyday drudgery of caring for three high maintenance children and her loving but detached husband, starts to get to her.
Marlo has a brother who loves her, and has been very successful. His family is equally large but so much different as to be painful. The humor in the story comes from characters and their mannerisms more than any situation, and her brother Craig and his wife Elyse are definitely characters. It is hard enough putting up with strangers who judge you because there are traces of caffeine in your coffee when you are pregnant, but when your own family seems to engage in subtle social comparison, it has to hurt. It is Craig who introduces the idea of a “night” nanny to help out. The suggestion seems ludicrous when coming from the pretentious and self righteous brother, but it is an idea that takes hold when Marlo’s last good nerve is plucked one too many times.
Mackenzie Davis shows up as the title character and begins to have an influence on the world that Marlo inhabits. There is an on-going visual metaphor in the story that should give some expectation that something deeper is happening, but frankly I was not expecting a couple of the twists that arrive, and that is what makes this movie so interesting. The snarky humor and ironic posture of the story is enough to make it work. I though that the television show that Marlo occupies her sleepless nights with was an invention of the story. It turns out that it is a real thing, which makes the humor that comes from Marlo describing it to Tully, all the more clever. There are a couple of sequences that seem strangely voyeuristic, put turn out to be something completely different when we get the whole picture.
I liked the movie pretty well, but there are things about it that may have you scratching your head afterwards. I don’t really feel that I can discuss those without giving away spoilers, and unfortunately, those are some of the most interesting ideas in the film. Regardless of the surprises, the dialogue, and settings will be familiar to most parents and they will nod appreciatively or in embarrassment at the things they may see in themselves. “Tully” is the kind of adult film that has the potential to be embraced by critics and audiences, but the awkward humor and occasionally unpleasant reality of everyday life, may make it a little hard for general audiences to take it to heart. I hope they do, because it is thought provoking and very funny.