Three years after an astonishing feature debut – Juno – writer Diablo Cody gave us the criminally underrated Young Adult in 2011. The story of a high school princess struggling to find value at life in her early thirties after realising she may have just peaked at prom queen. The film’s blunt, cynical writing was excelled to even greater heights thanks to an aggressive, ugly performance from Charlize Theron. Tully sees actor and writer reunited for a second time in a film which continues the bleak, honest exploration of womanhood it started seven years prior. Soon to be mother of three, Marlo is a woman forever on the verge of exhaustion, stuck in a trying cycle of school runs, breast pumps and both sexless and sleepless nights. With the arrival of a new born, Marlo is encouraged by family to hire a night nanny, someone to come and take care of the baby whilst both parents are able to rest and recover. Initially sceptical of the whole concept, Marlo eventually lets twenty-six-year-old Tully into her home. Their unique and intimate relationship gives a mother in desperation a new lease of life and an ability to talk through and process the struggles of motherhood, particularly one plagued by what seems to be a permanent postnatal depression. Tully is sure to divide audience but I find myself frequently drawn to films such as this. I’m often charmed and swept up in their unapologetic and honest depictions of women on the brink. I suspect that not enough people will see or fully appreciate Tully, just like last year’s indie gem Colossal, from director Nacho Vigalondo.
Films with this much cynicism often risk becoming bitter but there is something very impressive about the way that Cody’s writing balances her characters and their predicaments with affection that doesn’t stray to far in the direction of sentimentality. There is a brutal honesty and unapologetic depiction of the horrors of being a new mum which few films ever tackle. Night time nappy changes, cracked nipples, impromptu lactation and endless exhaustion leaves us as an audiences with a clear visual sense of just how worn out our lead character is. Theron continues to dumbfound in another physically demanding role for which she gained over three and a half stone. This performance has her usual fire and aggression whilst emotion and vulnerability creep up occasionally and dramatically. We are at no point encouraged to like or even root for Marlo, a shell of the bohemian free spirit she clearly once was. Her marriage is neglected, her children are difficult and her relationships strained across the board. In its final third, the film’s narrative strays into questionable pastures but Theron carries us through the murky waters. The film has a handful of plot related flaws but Theron’s treatment of Cody’s smart writing makes it easy to forgive. Tully is unafraid to show us the truth about experiences that unite many mothers around the world but which we so very rarely see on screen; for this it must be given credit. It’s a bleak, blunt and hard-hitting affair but not entirely without compassion. It maintains a tenderness that stops it from becoming entirely incredulous.
Thanks for reading and let’s all keep supporting our beloved film industry.