The film is about Marlo, a mother of three including a newborn, who is gifted a night nanny by her brother. Hesitant to the extravagance at first, Marlo comes to form a unique bond with the thoughtful, surprising, and sometimes challenging young nanny named Tully.
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Director Jason Reitman (Labor Day
, Thank You for Smoking
) and screenwriter Diablo Cody (Jennifer's Body
, Ricki and the Flash
) have collaborated three times. The first was the charming coming-of-age comedy Juno
. The second was the Charlize Theron vehicle Young Adult
. And the third is Tully
Theron (not only a Reitman/Cody favorite, but a Hollywood favorite as well thanks to movies like Atomic Blonde
and Mad Max: Fury Road
) as a woman named Marlo who is a tired mother of three, one of whom is a newborn. Her husband, Drew (Ron Livingston from Office Space
and The Conjuring
), means well, but after a long day of work, he prefers playing video games to caring for children. When Marlo's brother, Craig (Mark Duplass from Creep
and The One I Love
), offers to pay for a "night nanny," she initially balks at the offer. But once exhaustion sets in, Marlo makes the call, and a free-spirited nanny named Tully (Blade Runner 2049
's Mackenzie Davis) shows up and seems to have the answers to all of Marlo's problems.
Inspired by Diablo Cody's own experiences with pregnancy, Tully
seems at first glance to be a spiritual cinematic soulmate to both Juno
and Young Adult
, sort of like the third part of a generational trilogy. But as it goes on, it becomes clear that the film is deeper than that, sensitively portraying serious issues like post-partum depression and autism spectrum disorder with tenderness and care. Most of all, though, it explores the intense bond between two women, one who desperately needs help and one who is in the enviable position of being able to give it. And Tully
does all of it with a rare combination of authenticity and whimsy.
Tully also deals with other timely topics, but talking about them here would spoil a big twist reveal that is, quite frankly, the most impactful moment in the movie. The surprise is the type of Sixth Sense/Usual Suspects twist that makes the audience hover between feeling sorry that they can never experience it for the first time again and wanting to watch it once more right away just so they can see if they can spot the clues. It's one of those jaw-droppers that completely changes everything that the viewer has seen up until then.
There's not a whole lot of conflict in Tully, and any conflict that does exist is all basically inside Marlo's head, so it's a pretty simple movie, at least story-wise. Parts of the film are improbable, and others are downright ridiculous, but for the most part, it's a powerful look at a woman experiencing her lowest low and the guardian angel who pops in to help lift her up. And, as was the case with Juno and Young Adult, even the sillier sections are very enjoyable.
The music in Tully
plays a big part in telling the story. There's a simple, quirky score from Rob Simonsen (Nerve
, Love, Simon
) made up mostly of piano tinkering that is pure Reitman/Cody. But the real sonic joy to the movie lies within the tasteful use of a handful of pop songs. There are a pair of songs performed by Beulahbelle (a duo consisting of actress Kaitlyn Dever and her sister Mady), one of which is a cover of the James Bond theme "You Only Live Twice" that accompanies one of the film's brilliant montage sequences. The Jayhawks song "Blue" also pops up in a couple of strategic places, and it's wonderful to hear. The coolest use of music, however, occurs in one scene where Marlo and Tully drive to New York City to go clubbing for the night and they listen to Cyndi Lauper's entire She's So Unusual
album on the way, really illustrating how the two "Girls Just Want to Have Fun." The scene skips its way through the songs to compress time, so it also serves as a nice reminder of exactly how many hit songs are on that record. Musical soundtracks are always important components to Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody movies, and Tully
is not just another example of it - it's a perfect example of it.
It's not truly accurate to call Tully
a comedy. It's got its funny moments, but the laughs are all mostly limited to the same dry, acerbic verbal wit for which Diablo Cody's scripts are known. There are a handful of chuckles here and there as well as some laugh-out-loud moments peppered throughout. Mostly, though, Tully
is more of an introspective drama than any kind of comedy. It inspires a lot of emotional reactions, and laughter is one of them, but it's not the only one. Heck, it's not even the most important one.