' ' Cinema Romantico: Tully

Thursday, October 25, 2018


“Tully” opens by casting Marlo Moreau (Charlize Theron), mother of two, on the verge of being mother of three, in a golden light, equating her with an angel as she tries calming down the occasional violent outbursts of her son Jonah by brushing his skin. Not long after, however, director Jason Reitman cuts to the cold, grey, hard light of day inside Marlo’s SUV as Jonah kicks the back of her seat, screaming, sending Marlo into something like an adult timeout that gets interrupted anyway. This emblemizes not only the emotional tightrope that Marlo is forced to walk with her son, but the age-old dichotomy of fantasy and reality, each of which “Tully” dabbles in. If after that initial image the movie transforms into an unmasking of motherhood as something less than a gift and more like an endurance test, it eventually metamorphoses into what feels like a waking dream, one from which it never, despite seeming to think so, quite emerges.

You see Marlo’s precarious mental state straight away when her new daughter is born, a moment which Reitman recounts not by showing us mother jubilantly cradling newborn infant but mother exhaustedly leaning back, newborn infant unseen, only heard crying in the background, a swift evocation of her new reality. Her marriage to Drew (Ron Livingston), meanwhile, is not so much exhausting as just exhausted, as Livingston’s patented ability to sound like he’s asleep even when he’s awake has rarely been put to better use, even if you wish Diablo Cody’s script might have more attently scrutinized their marital strife. In this third child reality, Marlo’s brother (Mark Duplass) has the couple over for dinner and gives his sister a number to call for a night nanny, one to help ease the burden.

When the nanny, Tully (Mackenzie Davis), knocks on the door, the movie turns in an instant from nightmare to something more pleasantly ethereal, underscored by her arriving in the middle of the night with Marlo suspended in some sort of nighttime TV trance. Tully takes care of the kid, yes, but she is less a child rearer than a kind of cosmic life coach. If Reitman occasionally shows the physical dissimilarities between a childless twentysomething and a mother of three, he is not ogling the former so much as visually illustrating how they are both pieces of the same whole, like a shot where Tully rifles through the refrigerator on one side of the frame while Marlo slumps at the kitchen table on the other side. Indeed, Tully not so subtly possesses all the vim and useless, if breathless, knowledge that Marlo once did before so many sleepless nights seemed to warp her memory. And Marlo eventually rises from this stupor at the nanny’s prodding, not so much arduously or gradually as mystically, emphasized in too many montages set to an excessive selection of emo singer-songwriter tracks. (Someone needs to make Reitman a mixtape of other musical genres.) A sequence, on the other hand, where Tully encourages Marlo to get into costume and entice her husband suggests an intriguingly dark alternate path that, alas, is just a feint. All this feels, frankly, too good to be true.

It is, though I would never dare revealing precisely why. The movie’s turn, however, doubles as the movie’s crossroads, one that, despite suggesting another genre, works well in conjunction with the preceding dreamy tone. The problem becomes how casually the movie brushes the turn aside, writing its apparent genesis out in one line, never really following up on what plays like a much more significant issue. It’s the strangest thing, particularly when considering the preceding Jason Reitman/Diablo Cody/Charlize Theron collaboration “Young Adult” concluded by deliberately, deliciously, disturbingly giving in to fantasy. “Tully” concludes without any idea it’s given in to fantasy at all.

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