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Tully review - solid dramedy about the toll of motherhood

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Jason Reitman's latest, Tully, is a dramedy that grapples with the physical and emotional toll of motherhood. More of a drama with a few laughs than a lighthearted romp, Tully is a pretty damn good movie featuring a very strong and memorable performance from Charlize Theron.


Marlo (Theron) is a mother of three, including a newborn baby. She is terribly exhausted, dealing with enormous amounts of pressure and stress, and she's upset with how much her body has changed as a result of her three pregnancies. 

To help her and the family manage, her brother Craig (Mark Duplass) recommends a night nanny for the baby, one that he'll pay for. Marlo is reluctant at first, but when she meets Tully (Mackenzie Davis), she is very quickly won over. A young woman with a big heart and seemingly boundless optimism, Tully is keen to help Marlo not just with the baby, but with her life.

Charlize Theron gives a strong and very committed performance. One feels the weight of the world on her shoulders, the pining for a younger, slimmer body in her weary eyes. Marlo is caught in a feedback loop of stress and misery. It's a terribly honest, raw look at how demanding motherhood can be, especially in those first few months. 

Marlo doesn't really know what to make of the young, thin, bubbly Tully. At first, she's uncomfortable, maybe even a little envious. However, it doesn't take long for the two women to bond, and their dynamic is undoubtedly one of the movie's biggest highlights. 

Tully's role is to be the ray of sunshine that helps Marlo get out of a very dark place, and Mackenzie Davis gives an appropriately luminous performance. It's the kind of bright, sunny energy and optimism that could easily have been grating, but she makes it quite endearing. 

The movie also has a subplot about one of Marlo's kids being atypical and having trouble fitting in with his peers, among other things. That particular bit is one of its weaker parts, because it's never fully explored. It's not an out of place or poorly handled subplot, but there isn't enough of focus on it to fully justify its existence. 

There's a fairly long stretch of the movie's runtime where most people will probably wonder where the movie is headed. It's pretty smooth sailing for Marlo, Tully and the family for a while and there don't seem to be any obstacles or conflicts in the way. 

The conclusion is... unexpected, to say the least. It adds layers to the story and characterization that definitely encourage a second viewing, since it makes you re-examine certain relationships and moments. Even that vague statement comes dangerously close to giving it away, so best to leave it at that.

Suffice to say, it's a powerful and memorable ending that you probably won't see coming. 

Tully balances good writing with a strong sense of visual storytelling. You learn about Marlo as much through what she explicitly reveals when talking to Tully as you do just from seeing what she does and the way she carries herself. For instance there's a great scene where Marlo over-exerts herself, to prove she can run faster than another woman who is younger and thinner.

The movie's stirring final shot also shows how powerful a gesture as simple as sharing headphones can be. The recurring images and visions of mermaids might be trying a bit too hard to add some meaningful symbolism to the movie. Fortunately, they're used sparingly enough.

It has its quirks and weak points, but at its core, Tully is a very good movie that handles a tough subject with a deft touch. Charlize Theron is fantastic and her performance alone is a big plus for the movie.

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