With their third big screen collaboration (well, fourth, if you count his producing duties on Jennifer's Body), director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody are more or less proving themselves the James Ivory and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala of suburban dramedies. (Which, I suppose, could make Charlize Theron their Emma Thompson).
Tully, their latest picture, is not quite on the level of their prior efforts, Juno and Young Adult. It lacks the sparkling ensemble of the former and the writing isn't quite as sharp and gut-punching here as it is in the latter. (Nor is this film in the same league as Up in the Air, Reitman's masterpiece.)
That said, this film remains wholeheartedly worth a look, if exclusively as a showcase for Theron, who once again proves herself one of the finest actresses working today.
Theron is Marlo, a wife and mother of two, about to give birth to her third child. Already exasperated by her two kids, especially her car seat-kicking, chicken nugget-guzzling son, Marlo is approached by her brother Craig (Mark Duplass), who suggests she consider hiring a nanny for nighttime duties. Marlo resists at first - that is, until little baby Mia graces the earth and proves a suffocating bundle of joy.
Ultimately, Marlo does give in and into her life arrives Tully (Mackenzie Davis, in a fetching, irresistible performance). Like a gift from the heavens, Tully is masterful in not only handling Mia but also providing Marlo with peace and surprising insights about motherhood and the importance of taking care of oneself. Marlo finds herself enlightened and invigorated by Tully's presence - the question is, how long can their bond last?
Tully is especially satisfying and perceptive in its first half, with Theron soaring in this expertly written role. Cody continues to compose rich, shrewd dialogue in a fashion rarely seen in today's comedies. By the hour mark, Tully becomes more haphazard and uneven, until an 11-'o-clock-hour twist instills the proceedings with much of the freshness found earlier.
Unlike Juno and Young Adult, Tully isn't much of an ensemble showcase. Davis is a true delight, while Ron Livingston has the rather thankless duties of taking on Drew, the amiable, hardworking husband who hasn't a clue about the struggles of motherhood. Lia Frankland is sweet as their daughter Sarah but neither her role, nor anyone else's beyond Marlo and Tully, is much fleshed out.
Tully may be a second-tier effort from its director and writer but it finds Theron operating at the top of her game and sports that dazzling turn from Davis - for them alone, it's well worth watching.