Tully

Director  Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody, the team who brought you Juno and Young Adult, have at it again, taking aim at motherhood.

Marlo (Charlize Theron) is struggling to keep up with her two young kids – sweet Sarah, who’s 8, has birthday parties and soccer practice to get to, and Jonah, who’s 4, has special needs and quirks that are inadequately addressed but in constant demand of attention. Marlo hasn’t quite pulled her hair out yet, not all of it, but baby #3 arrives quite quickly into the movie, and that’s when things fall apart. Sleep deprived and overwhelmed, she’s either moving through life like a zombie, or she’s dashing around like a crazy person. She feels like she’s failing her kids and her husband and her own personhood, and it’s only in her lowest low that she finally consents to allow a night nurse hired by her wealthy brother to help out. And as soon as Tully arrives, life is transformed. I have several things to say about this movie:

  1. I sat and watched it in the middle of the day, in a theatre with maybe 8 other people in it. There was a pair of old ladies behind me who of course could not shut their mouths for the life of them. One lady was always about 20 seconds MV5BYmEzYmUzMTAtYTMwYy00MDZiLWJhODgtNDc2Zjc3MmIyZGQxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjgxMTA1MzQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1499,1000_AL_behind, as if she was watching the movie on her very own special mental delay. The movie’s not exactly laugh out loud funny, but about 20 seconds after the rest of us had given a low chuckle, she would proclaim “Ha ha, that’s funny.” Except. Except this one joke that was heavily featured in the film’s promotion, in which the young night nurse Tully says that “You can’t fix the parts without treating the whole.” To which Marlo replies “No one’s treated my hole in a really long time.” And then the old lady behind me chimes in “Or mine!” – and you know what, Olga? (I bet her name was Olga) No one needs to hear about your hole, and I’m frankly finding it hard to imagine right about now that you’re capable of keeping any of them closed.
  2. Everyone’s talking about this “raw” and “honest” take on motherhood, and I think a lot of moms identified with the exhausted character they saw in the trailer. Motherhood is not always rosy. Asking for help might be sanity saving (though, hello, night nurses are for the privileged, and help isn’t always easy to come by, or easy to ask for). But mother-martyrdom has been done to death, so to me, the more interesting thing in this movie is how fatherhood is portrayed. Marlo’s husband hardly contributes to the parenting and she doesn’t even seem to resent him for it. He has a life outside the house, and he travels extensively, but even when he’s home he’s hardly helping. This is not my experience of 2018 dads, and I realize that breastfeeding will always keep things unequal, but Marlo’s husband is such a passive, uninvolved father the portrayal seemed dated. And if he really is this worthless, then Marlo needs to find her voice and demand better for herself and her family. But in fact, he gets away with it. The film never condemns him. That felt off to me.
  3. SPOILERS ahead, darlings. The truth is, for all the film’s “honesty”  we find out that the magical night nurse really is too good to be true. Tully is an imaginary friend, perhaps even a younger Marlo. So while postpartum depression is hinted at if not named, this hallucination is in fact indicative of a psychotic break. Postpartum psychosis is rare but very serious, and people have mixed feelings about her lack of diagnosis and lack of treatment seen on screen. All new mothers struggle. All of them. Being responsible for the survival of a completely helpless newborn is all-consuming. And postnatal episodes of depression can hit 10-15% of new mothers, though many are still reluctant to admit to it. Does the film do a disservice in not naming this mental illness? Does the viewer learn anything? In the movie, Tully is eventually dismissed, like Mary Poppins, but that’s not how psychosis works, and we can’t help but be afraid for Marlo as she returns home to a life unchanged, an illness untreated, and a husband who’s still very much in the dark about everything.
  4. EVEN MORE SPOILERS. The movie lost its grip on me when it started making some weird choices on Marlo’s behalf. But once it’s revealed that night nurse Tully is actually a younger Marlo swooping in to save her flailing middle-aged self, those scenes start to make more sense. You kind of wish you could revisit them with your new knowledge in order to understand them for their truth and not their illusion. So this film will absolutely require a second viewing (though not in theatres, for fear of more old lady TMI). In a way, Marlo’s  younger self is sort of her super hero, but they have things to learn from each other. Marlo envies Tully’s carefree life, her sexual escapades, her world of possibilities. But looking back, I’m struck by a line that didn’t mean as much at the time. Tully says “You’re convinced you’re this failure, but you actually made your biggest dream come true.” And if Tully really is a younger Marlo, then this isn’t empty reassurance but a reminder that motherhood was once her ambition.

Tully is a complex movie that needs and wants digesting. I believe it respects motherhood if not mental illness, and I have complicated feelings about that. But Charlize Theron is fearless as Marlo, a woman who has lost herself but thanks to Charlize always feels present nonetheless. Theron and Mackenzie Davis (Tully) have kinetic, intense chemistry and their scenes together add dimensionality to Hollywood’s concept not just of motherhood but of womanhood, femininity, and identity. Theron is self-assured; she uses her physicality in a way we haven’t seen from her before. She is daring and strong and I felt protective of her.

This movie was so quiet I didn’t even feel comfortable eating my snack, despite my stomach eating itself in desperation – it sort of mimicked the lethargy, the sleepwalking feel that Marlo stumbles around in. But whatever hell Marlo is experiencing, she’s taking care of her kids. Motherhood isn’t sacred in this movie, it’s not revered, but it’s honoured and esteemed and it’s clear they want to get it right.

 

 

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33 thoughts on “Tully

  1. Brittani

    I hate when people do that in theaters. When I saw The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, there was a woman who went “awwwww” after every sad/depressing thing that happened in that, which is basically the entire film.

    The dad was completely useless in this movie. Like, she was pumping. He could’ve gotten up with the baby every other night. It was ridiculous.

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    1. Jay Post author

      I saw Freeheld at TIFF and there was a man behind me determined to show the world how cool he was with lesbians by doing the “awwwww” thing for literally every single thing they did, which doesn’t exactly win you any awards. I wanted to punch him. I’m surprised I didn;t.

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  2. Experience Film

    This movie is more complicated than I would have thought, but you explained it well. And I know motherhood has also gotta be way more complicated than anyone could imagine, as well as fatherhood.

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  3. Experience Film

    Interesting take on Tully’s husband (as being the typical old-fashioned absent/frozen father). That surprises me for this movie/these progressive filmmakers. I love Ron Livingston (Office Space is one of my all-time fav movies)

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    1. Jay Post author

      It definitely surprised me too. I think he sort of has to be this way for the story to work – for him not to notice what’s really happening to Marlo.

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  4. Experience Film

    I am keenly interested in learning what causes Post-Partum Depression. Especially since my older sister is going to be a mother in less than month, and I’m expecting her to suffer from it. I’m a psychology major so I should know what to do. But I’m not confident.

    Is it that mothers experience such a HIGH from birth, i.e., several week long Dopamine/serotonin/oxytocin neurotransmitter releasing binges that they burn their systems out of resources and then become depressed? And not before becoming delusional in the process, like Tully? That’s my hunch. But is it this? Or something else that causes the depression? 🤔

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    1. Jay Post author

      Post-partum depression is a lot like regular depression, it just follows the birth of a baby, up to 6 months, and the depression centers around motherhood.
      Why does it happen? That’s a more complicated question. Certainly between pregnancy and labour\delivery, that’s a LOT OF hormones being dumped into someone’s system. And having a baby is pretty much the biggest life change you can go through. And it’s supposed to be the happiest even of your life, so when for many it’s just really hard, that can be very triggering.

      And there’s a lot of shame around it, so if you see your sister or anyone else seeming to suffer, encourage and support. It’s a tough road.

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  5. allthingsthriller

    Fantastic review Jay. And thank you for the spoiler. I had decided not to watch Tully when I read some of the reviews and found out that the night nurse has sex with the husband and Tully approves. I know all about new mom exhaustion (well, I could brush up on it but only as a grandmother–fingers crossed) but there would be some A-kickin’ in my house–outside the nursery of course.

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    1. Jay Post author

      Yes that was a tough scene for me, especially as Marlo is basically talked into the sex by Tully. But with the last revelation, we realize it was just Marlo all along, and that was her way of being confident enough to do it, despite body issues and exhaustion, But as a stand alone scene, it nearly brought the whole thing crashing down on me.

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    1. Jay Post author

      Yes, more than I realized going in. It surprised me. It’s not necessarily a ‘likeable’ film but one that gave me a lot to think about.

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  6. Birgit

    Very interesting and I want to see this film. Actually the dumbass dad with the overwhelmed mom reminds me of my best friend. She didn’t have post-partum but she had 3 kids literally hanging on her and the dad was no where to be found. They are divorcing and he is a narcissistic a-hole. If I got into details you would think she married Trump. I bet there are many women out there that can relate to this and to the dad not helping and just being there like a lump.

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  7. Tom

    Oh man am I glad I read your review of this before getting into my own. I shall proceed now to steal all your thoughts on the Marlo/Tully dynamic because up until this point — SPOILERS — I really did think they were two individual people. But now I remember the mermaid imagery underwater. Tully really was just a hallucination wasn’t she? Holy shit. Im literally understanding that right now!

    Tully IS a complex movie. I really liked it though, and I appreciated that you broke it down so much.

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    1. Jay Post author

      They’re not very explicit about it, but you’re right, we do see the mermaid more than once.
      Some other hints I only picked up on at the end: we know that Marlo lived at the Loft with that woman from the coffee shop, and that they were more than friends…and Tully at some point suggests that she and her roommate are “entangled”. In the (empty) hot tub, Tully says she has multiple relationships and Marlo says “I used to be just like you”.

      And I really really really need to believe that the sex scene was just Marlo emboldening herself by remembering her younger self in order to have the courage to just do it. Still weird though, right?

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      1. Tom

        Yes, that scene made me really rather uncomfortable. But thats what I’d interpret if indeed we are assuming Tully was a hallucination.

        I’m still in two minds over this one, i have to say. The more I think about it the less sure I am of it haha

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  8. Widdershins

    Well, it kinda makes sense now that my gaydar pinged a little bit when I saw the trailer, but now I’m a little bit disappointed that Marlo and Tully didn’t end up riding off into the sunset together.
    I might even watch it one day,ow that I know the ‘zinger’. 😀

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  9. Liz A.

    Ah, so that’s the big secret. Every review I’ve read only alludes to it. And it was making me crazy. And now… Yeah, that doesn’t seem as cool as those reviews made it out to be.

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    1. Jay Post author

      Yeah, actually, this kind of reveal is usually so frustrating and soap opera-y but this was handled relatively well…it’s just that they only tell you in the end that this was not the movie you thought it was, so really they should be obligated to show it to you twice for the price of once!

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  10. J.

    I probably wouldn’t have bothered with this, but I’m keen to see it to experience it As an almost the second viewing (knowing about Tully). That said, I know I’d likely feel similarly about your points – the shitty father / husband and mental health, etc

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  11. Courtney Young

    Great review. I seemed to like this one more than you did, but I definitely didn’t like it as much as Young Adult or Juno. Very interesting about what you got out of the father role…I didn’t think about that character much, but now you’ve got my wheels turning.

    It’s wild how many moms out there are freaking out over this movie…if you haven’t read my review, you should. It’s really interesting how butthurt people are over this film.

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  12. peggyatthemovies

    I like your take..and I can’t believe you don’t say anything.why let someone ruin the movie experience for you…I say something..nicely at first..they keep on..I stop being nice..

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  13. Lloyd Marken

    Great review Jay, a couple of things I put out there. Yes help sometimes is not available if you don’t have the cash, in that way I saw the ending as realistic in the sense that they’re just going to have to get on with it but also that maybe she needs more than him helping her do the dishes but actually seeing someone maybe really needed. In the interviews I’ve watched with cast and crew Ron Livingston has pointed out his character isn’t fully supportive but not necessarily a bad guy just an ignorant one and that ignorance is finally confronted by the end of the film. If you think about it, its kind of heartbreaking. He was so out of it he didn’t realise his wife was really suffering and doing all these things in the middle of the night while he slept. As someone who grew up with a father who was always present and supportive I am ashamed to admit that men myself included don’t always support the way they should nor always have accurate perceptions of what is going on. I feel there was an honesty in the script with that that had been supported by the director. Like you said, plenty to unpack in this film and maybe some discussions about mental health to be had but overall I really liked the film. Charlize Theron is on fire these days.

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  14. Chris

    So I guess Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman took aspects from Juno (pregnancy) and Young Adult(a feisty Theron) and the result is Tully. From your review sounds like the film does a pretty good job of portraying motherhood

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