“Tully” turns out to be a twofer. There’s the movie you see, which is whipsmart, intimate, affecting, and fearlessly funny about the mixed blessings of motherhood. And there’s the movie you replay in your mind to sort out its various mysteries. That one is richer, deeper and strangely beautiful.
The stars are Charlize Theron and Mackenzie Davis. Theron plays Marlo, a mother in her thirties who can barely cope with two kids, then gives birth to a third. Davis is Tully, a night nanny who comes to help. Actually Tully has been sent to help. She and her services are a gift from Marlo’s brother, a rich guy with an enviable lifestyle, a lissome wife, a full-time nanny and a well-founded concern that his sister may be coming undone.
Marlo is unlissome. She bulks large, and not just because of the weight Charlize Theron put on for the role. She’s a gravely hilarious counterweight to an eternity of blissful maternities in Hollywood films.
This mother’s distress is understandable, given the demands of her other kids. That’s where the night nanny comes in, and where Mackenzie Davis makes a dazzling entrance, followed by a lovely star turn that’s the perfect complement to Charlize Theron’s brilliant performance. Tully is exactly what Marlo needs. She is also, to Marlo’s dismay, shockingly young, fearfully gorgeous and wise beyond her 26 years. In other words, she’s everything Marlo is not, though that distinction turns out to be startlingly incomplete.
This short, bright comedy with a dark core was directed by Jason Reitman from a superb screenplay by Diablo Cody; they collaborated previously on “Juno” and “Young Adult.” It’s a remarkable film about nothing less than regeneration, the harrowing process of pulling one’s worn, dispirited parts into a vibrant new whole. Tully the night nanny alludes to that when she describes rebuilding a boat, plank by plank. “Tully” the movie swings thrillingly between bleak and buoyant.
I’m Joe Morgenstern. You’ve heard me talk in previous pledge drives about the need to support KCRW, and the services it provides. This time the need is urgent because, as I know you know, there’s an all-out war on the press, on culture, on the very nature of objective truth. Please call and give generously.