Movie Review: ‘Tully’: Who’s Tougher, a Navy SEAL or a Mom?

By Mark Jackson, Epoch Times
May 7, 2018 Updated: May 13, 2018

R | | Comedy, Drama | 4 May 2018 (USA)

I categorically don’t cover the horror genre. Horror movies are like toxic, chemical-plant runoff, emptying into the river of human culture.

However, at the screening of “Tully,” it dawned on me there was a particular horror movie I’d never conceived of. A genre unto itself: Confirmed-Bachelor Horror.

Ron Livingston stars as Drew in Jason Reitman’s “Tully,” a Focus Features release. (Kimberly French/Focus Features)

A beyond-exhausted mom is catatonic with the effort to not react to 1) special-needs son in meltdown mode kicking her car seat in a frenzy, 2) daughter criticism, and 3) squalling infant. I feel a hyperventilation fit coming on even as I write. I jest, of course (but only slightly).

Actually, “Tully” depicts the reason I always knew I wasn’t going to have kids: You can only keep your child-rearing sanity with the help of a night nanny. And night nannies are expensive. Artist types can’t afford night nannies. (See, ex-girlfriends? This is exactly what I was talking about. Vindication! Boo-yah! That’s how I like to see it. Not the part where I might be a wuss. Nooo.)

Whys and Wherefores

Charlize Theron plays hugely pregnant 40-something Marlo, an ex-Bushwickian hipsterette, married to Berger (that’s Ron Livingston’s character from “Sex and the City”), played by Ron Livingston. Actually, he’s named Drew.

Marlo’s done what I’ve always considered to be the classic, fake-hipster-artist move—sold out, moved to the ’burbs (I’m guessing Westchester County), and dropped a bunch of babies. The third baby was unplanned. Naturally.

Drew and Marlo don’t like her ostentatious brother (Mark Duplass) and his upscale Asian wife, with their perfect kids and nouveau riche lifestyle. Except that after he invites Marlo down to his tacky, tiki-bar man cave (which she immediately disses), he offers to pay for a night nanny.

He can see that things are on the edge for her; there’s just too much chaos to manage. Marlo’s son Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica—very talented) is about to get the boot from elementary school for being too much to handle. Husband Drew works all day to make ends meet, and when he comes home at night, he does the minimum of daughter-homework supervision, and then hops into bed with Marlo—only to start playing video games. Who wouldn’t want his life? It’s the American Dream.

Charlize Theron and Mark Duplass as sister and brother in Jason Reitman’s “Tully.”  (Kimberly French/Focus Features)

Pop Goes the Baby

The baby gets born and now the real fun begins. Model-gorgeous Theron gained 50 pounds for this film, because she’s a world-class pro. This commitment pays off when her daughter says of mommy’s shirtless, wrinkly flabbiness: “Mommy, what happened to your body?” It’s not an “if-looks-could-kill” look that she gives her daughter, but a mixture of exhausted disbelief, shame, world-weary acceptance of the way of all flesh, and humor. Which is why Theron is an A-lister.

Charlize Theron stars as exhausted mom Marlo in Jason Reitman’s “Tully.” (Kimberly French/Focus Features)

But the frazzled breaking point has been reached, the yelling and cursing begins, and the bachelor’s nightmare goes into overdrive. If you are an old-school, never-getting-married type of man, you will chew your nails, cower in your seat, sweat profusely, and eye the exit sign. Apparently, writer Diablo Cody wrote “Tully” after having her own third child. She knows this territory. “Waah!!! Waaahhhhh!!!! Waaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!” Audience bachelors: “Aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh!!!

The term “sleep deprivation” doesn’t quite capture it. You know, I’ve always wanted to see Charlize Theron sitting around in baby-puke-stained pajamas and slippers, with legs stretched out, watching a daytime show called “Gigolos,” and sporting breast pumps.

Then there’s diaper-changing. Are you aware of an airtight diaper-sealing thing called a Diaper Genie? I was so fascinated by this that I had to go home and look it up: “Playtex Diaper Genie Complete Assembled Diaper Pail with Odor Lock Technology & 1 Full Size Refill, White (1 pail and 1 refill per unit).” Oh yeah—I can’t wait to get pregnant and try that out.

Marlo’s funny, though. You have to hand it to a woman who can deal with that much crazy, and still say to the politically correct school principle who euphemistically labels her son too “quirky”: “Quirky?! Do I have a kid or an (expletive omitted) ukulele?!”

Jim Dandy, er, Night Nanny, to the Rescue

Mackenzie Davis stars as a night nanny in Jason Reitman’s “Tully.” (Kimberly French/Focus Features)

Mackenzie Davis plays the titular Tully, the slightly gag-me-with-a-spoon treacly night nurse, dispensing bon mots of gooey, New-Age-y healing-ness. And Marlo finally sleeps the sleep of the dead—except for nightmares (ones I share) of swimming in the murky blue depths of the ocean. The oceanic depths where the giant Architeuthus squid lives. (That’s not in the movie.)

Mackenzie Davis (L) as Tully and Charlize Theron as Marlo star in Jason Reitman’s “Tully.” (Kimberly French/Focus Features)

Tully’s a little too good to be true. Marlo appears to be getting a little too attached; one could use a person like Tully for the rest of one’s natural-born days. I, myself, could use a Tully for non-baby-related matters. Like taxes. You sense it’s going to be a painful departure.

At one point, a fairly strong sequence of hallucinations goes on, calling Marlo’s mental health into question—which is ridiculous and a cop-out of sorts, considering motherhood. Isn’t motherhood one of the toughest gigs going? Infants sleep only four hours max, at a time! For six weeks straight! “Waaaah!!!” “Aaaaahhh!!!”

Navy SEALs hallucinate when they’ve been up five days in a row during “Hell Week.” They’ve been known to scream in terror at clowns running across the waves after them and to pull to a stop in their rubber boats because the traffic light (a mile out on the ocean) has turned red. Yet Navy SEAL training’s got nothing on motherhood.

Charlize Theron and director Jason Reitman on the set of “Tully.” (Kimberly French/Focus Features)

Director: Jason Reitman
Starring: Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Ron Livingston, Mark Duplass
Running Time: 1 hour, 36 minutes
Rated: R
Release Date: May 4
Rating: 3.5 Stars out of 5

Follow Mark on Twitter: @FilmCriticEpoch