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.

Ricki and the Flash

This will be brief because there is not much to say about the film. It is not particularly deep, the story goes exactly where you expect it to, and there was not anything outstanding in the way the film is put together. As I said to my companions afterwards, “There is a reason this is playing in August and not November”. Normally, Meryl Streep would be a magnet to draw some attention for a film, but she gives one of the least effective performances I’ve seen her do. She is not bad, but there is nothing special about her work except that she looks like she managed to learn to play some guitar.

The elements of the film that I thought were worthy include Ricki’s confrontation with the step-mother of her now adult children. Both Meryl and Audra MacDonald sold this scene with understated fury and resentment. That’s about as far as any fireworks there are in the movie. Rick Springfield not only holds his own with Marvelous Meryl, but seems to be more of a real character than her weary and frayed Rock wannabe. There was also some effective lampooning of “Whole Foods” market and weddings planned by environmental citizens. Both subject provided a couple of chuckles in the film.

Kevin Kline is largely wasted as Ricki’s ex husband. His character comes across as ineffectual and mostly there to make the phone call that brings Ricki back to the family she is estranged from. Mamie Gummer looks like she could be Meryl’s daughter (oh wait, she is, good casting), she should have had a lot more to do in the story since her character is the principle engine that drives the premise of family reunion. She has one scene where she is a complete bitch, and then two scenes where she is silently a needy child again. Because the story is so conventional, she has nowhere to go.

The music in the film is fine. It largely plays to the older audience that the movie seems to be targeted at. There are a lot of stage performance sequences and they sound competent. Rick Springfield and the other guys are professional musicians so that makes sense. Ricki never made the big time, but you can see that she loves the music. I’m not sure why it was necessary to have everyone at the weddding climax of the film act as if she had a social disease. The awkwardness that some of the scenes create is artificial because the extras and the rest of the cast are directed to be dumbfounded by her presence and actions, and we can’t tell why they would feel that way.

You can tell that there was just not as much here as there ought to be by looking at the lazy poster. Photoshopped Meryl and a tagline that tells you almost nothing.This is a very average movie that is not embarrassing but not something you would ever want to see a second time. I did not dislike it as much as I remained mostly indifferent to it. The screenwriter Diablo Cody did give us a couple of good lines. I liked the philosophy that it’s not your kids job to love you, it’s your job to love your kids. Had there been a little bit more of the family dynamic and a little bit less concert footage, the film would be better, but still not a great movie, just one that would be more worthy.