Thursday, June 21, 2018
If the main selling point of a movie is that it was created by the same team that gave us Juno 11 years ago, than comparisons are unavoidable. When I learned that Tully reunited Juno director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody, I began thinking about how much the world has changed since 2007, and how Juno may go down as the last of the big independent smashes. It came out slightly before the boom of comic book movies, when art houses still offered small, smart films, with audiences willing to see them. Nowadays, the only art houses I know of show obscure documentaries and European films, the sort that push for theater bookings so they can qualify at Oscar time. This is probably the reason Tully was given a quick, three day run at a venue in my area, a refurbished joint known for hosting musical acts like Robert Cray and Pat Benater. With its oh-so serious subject matter and a convincing performance by Charlize Theron, Tully was likely made with awards in mind.
Theron plays Marlo, a mother of three who has just about capsized under the weight of motherhood. Her husband is a vague lump of a man who always seems to be in his pajamas playing video games, and her oldest son is the sort of emotional mess that people politely refer to as a "handful." Into Marlo's life comes Tully (Mackenzie Davis), a night nanny hired by Marlo's brother so poor Marlo can finally get some sleep. Tully, who comes on like a tidal wave of confidence, has all the answers - she's into yoga and yogurt and can quote from Samuel Pepys' diary. She's also 26, slim and vibrant, and by the middle of the movie she's helping Marlo pep up her love life. When she invites Marlo to go barhopping in New York, they're soon in a car listening to Cyndi Lauper's greatest hits and cruising through Marlo's old Brooklyn neighborhood. But when Tully tells Marlo that she has to be moving on, you get the feeling that this chick flick aint gonna end in a nice way.
Reitman has directed at least two fine movies (Up In The Air, Young Adult) since Juno, and a couple of not so fine ones. I like his movies. They are thoughtful, and tend to creep around in your head. Tully, though, feels too pat, too easily assembled, like a paint by numbers rendition of an Erica Jong novel. Theron, who served as a producer on the movie, shambles around looking sweaty and exasperated, fatigued by motherly duties. There's a feeling that everyone in Tully is trying to play "realistically," so we get a lot of whispers and mumbles and closeups of fat stomachs. Though Theron is perfectly believable as a worn out mother, it isn't enough to carry a movie. I kept hoping Marlo would get mad, the way Gena Rowlands used to get mad in John Cassavetes' movies. Instead, she just perspires and sleeps, offering a few sardonic comments. It may be a reasonable depiction of depression, but it's not riveting cinema.
Cody seems to have taken a theme from Juno - a glib young woman enters the life of an unhappy couple - and siphoned the life from it. There's a twist at the end, but not the kind that will leave you shaken. You're more likely to think, "Shit, that old story again? Is that the best we can get?" By then, Tully feels like a leftover episode of the TV series Cody wrote for Showtime, The United States of Tara, where Toni Collete played a suburban housewife with multiple personalities. You may also wonder, as I did, why the trailer for Tully is so misleading. In the trailer I watched, we see Marlo making lewd jokes (which don't appear in the actual movie), and then, as Marlo looks winsomely into the night sky, the music swells. It seemed to be a movie about a bored mother who learns to appreciate her life and all she's accomplished. I might have liked that movie better. The one we get is a bit messy and boring. Kind of like motherhood, I imagine.