Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri May 04, 2018 1:36 pm 
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Making life easier may cost you

Diablo Cody's screenplays are a mix of social commentary, life lessons, fun facts, and humor. Tully is her third collaboration with the director Jason Reitman after their 2007 Juno and 2011 Young Adult. Reitman sums up the three, in two of which a woman faces pregnancy, with two (but not the same two) starring Charlize Theron: he sees them as a sort of drawn-out, asymmetrical coming-of-age trilogy. "If Juno is about growing up too fast," he's said, "and Young Adult is about growing up too slow, Tully is about raising children while letting go of your own childhood." Each of the three protagonists, he says, is out of sync with where she's supposed to be. But the problems of Marlo (Theron) in Tully, a beleaguered mom who, when we meet her, is pregnant with her third child, seem the most universal for women who have faced parenthood.

Ellen Page in Juno is memorably feisty as a teenager refusing to be daunted by unexpected pregnancy; Theron as Mavis in the ironically titled Young Adult is sadly, embarrassingly immature. Marlo in Tully . . . what is she, exactly? Though Theron is thoroughly believable in the role, her story illustrates no such clearcut point. This is the beauty of the movie, its realism - despite Cody's weakness for irrelevant jokes - but also its chaos and structural confusion. Where is this movie going?

Well, toward comfort, for one thing. If, as Fran Lebowitz says, Viagra is the bane of the third wife, a night nanny, for those who can afford one, is the boon of the third pregnancy. Marlo (Charlize Theron) faces that stage of life. Her little boy, Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica), is a handful. Just when she has learned he is going to be forced to transfer away from his elementary school, in the car with them her newborn daughter (whose birth was handled quickly after a lot of scenes of an uncomfortably large Marlo) sets to howling nonstop. Just unbearably. We are not surprised when Marlo gives in to pressure at this point and accepts Tully (Mackenzie Davis), that nurse for the newborn whom her rich brother Craig (Mark Duplass) has offered to fund.

After Tully arrives, the movie narrows down in a good way, one reviewer has said. With all this focus on bourgeois white New York hassles, isn't it pretty narrow to begin with? The makers of Tully may be surprised to learn how rarely hiring a night nanny is pondered in the South Bronx - or in Peoria. But the narrowness is good, in that it also means that Tully takes over, both Mia (the baby), at night anyway, and the movie.

Tully is a breath of fresh air. Finally the movie becomes fun. We are relieved for Marlo, who can get some sleep (though she's wakened so Mia can nurse), and for her well-meaning but fairly useless husband Drew (Ron Livingston), who comes home tired from work and seems to most want to play video games in bed with big headphones on. The couple's reunion and happiness are signaled in the film's final shot with both sharing earbuds to hear the same song. This is a cute idea, symbolic of the many times when Diablo Cody can't seem to resist one.

In the old days of, say, Nancy Mitford, a nanny was a social inferior to be nonetheless respected from a distance. Here, of course, in class-confused America, where youth is its own aristocracy, Tully is to be admired for her lack of years, and bonded with, sharing a hot tub and secrets. It's great, until it wreaks havoc.

It may not be necessary to the plot (to Cody's screenplay), but the role of Marlo is another opportunity for Charlize Theron to test her skill as a shape-shifter. You may see her as becoming another Monster - the monster of a woman distorted out of shape by carrying her third child, since she gained fifty pounds for the role. But though Marlo may have moments of skirting on the edge of a nervous breakdown, she does not become a monster of misshapen morals like the serial killer Aileen Wuornos, the role that made Theron famous as a risk-taking actress. Marlo is just a woman who deserves to take a load off. But this is another feather in Theron's cap, a role she's not taken on before, assumed without an hint of vanity. After Aileen, Imperator Furiosa, and Atomic Blonde, a mother juggling a baby and two small children is still a tough one.

I cannot tell you how the movie turns out, but its climax is dramatic - and preposterous. What is interesting about Tully is the mystery of this young woman who seems so competent. She knows exactly what to do, and is full of odd facts - more opportunities for non sequiturs from Cody. She is charming, and pretty, and we see Marlo ease up and, as she puts it, begin to see colors again. A better film might have gotten us to the relationship between Marlo and Tully sooner, stretched it out longer, and made more interesting things come of its mystery.

Tully, 96 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 2018, playing in other US festivals including Miami, Cleveland, Wisconsin and Atlanta, ending at Tribeca, and before that featured at a tribute to Theron at the San Francisco International Film Festival 8 Apr. Metascore 78%.


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