Marlo (Charlize Theron) is married to Drew (Ron Livingston). Every night, according to Marlo at least, he “goes upstairs, puts on a headset, kills zombies, passes out.” Her nightly routine is to serve frozen pizza for her two primary-aged kids and then binge watch a soft-core porno reality TV show called Gigolos. In other words, they’re just a normal suburban two-career family – at least as envisioned by director Jason Reitman (Up in the Air) and writer Diablo Cody. These two have paired up before, most notably for Juno, and as in that film, their sardonic view of family life in the burbs is tempered with sharp but empathetic humour combined with real warmth towards their characters. We see that again after the birth of the couple’s late-in-life (and unplanned) child Mia, who’s arrival causes Marlo to descend into a whirlwind of sleepless nights, breast pumps, explosive nappies, nipple creams and crippling postpartum depression. To make matter worse, her middle son’s undiagnosed behavioural problems at school have resulted in a “suggestion” that he needs “additional support”. In other words, he’s expelled.
But to the rescue comes Tully (Mackenzie Davis), a night nanny paid for by Marlo’s wealthy brother (Mark Duplass), a gift accepted only reluctantly. Tully, a pretty 20-something, breezes into their lives like a genie emerging from a magic lamp. She turns up promptly at 10pm so Marlo can sleep at night; the baby no longer cries (ever, apparently) and in the morning, the school lunches are packed, the house is spotless and there’s even freshly baked cupcakes in the oven. And she’s out the door at 6.30 after calmly offering Marlo some serene zen-like homilies about “treating the inner person.” They become friends, Marlo recovers her zest for life, remembers her youthful dreams, and even good-old marital sex is back. Too good to be true – of course it is…
But what’s going on? Most viewers, I suspect, will find the reveal, when it does finally come, and the ending eminently satisfying. I’ll confess I had a few problems with it, and there’s one scene leading up to it when I cringed – Oh no! please don’t go there, that’s so predictable! But Reitman and Cody are cleverer than that, and even a bit audacious. Tully is a thoughtful and relatable comedy about the trials and tribulations of modern motherhood, one that raises as many questions as it answers. It’s funny, perceptive and serious all at the same time. But a treat for Mum on Mother’s Day? Maybe not – it could just be a bit too honest. M from May 10 Inner west venues include Palace Norton Street, Palace Central, Burwood and Dendy Newtown. ★★★★
Also opening this week
There’s no shortage of good movies this week, most notably Chappaqquiddick (our verdict here), as well as the excellent but hard to find On Body And Soul and Midnight Oil: 1984 (both worth ★★★★ and more, and reviewed here). They’re all playing at Dendy Newtown btw, who are offering $8 tickets for online bookings to all standard sessions between Thursday May 10 and Tuesday May 15. Nice one, Dendy (and there’s no booking fee either).
Reviews – Russell Edwards