Tully isn’t perfect but it sure works as birth control

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Opens May 4

3 out of 5

It’s a bit of a shame that Jason Reitman, this generation’s Cameron Crowe, hasn’t connected with audiences more often. Granted, he tends to go to the same well — upper middle class white folk — time and time again, and his work is a bit too precious. However, few other filmmakers put as much effort into dissecting modern malaise with complex, all-too-human characters.

It could be argued Reitman’s best movie to date is Young Adult, an unflinching portrait of a second-rate author going from hot mess to full on train-wreck over the course of a visit to her hometown. It’s the perfect example of the self-discovery trips this Canadian director is so adept at portraying. The film wasn’t a box office success (Reitman’s movies aren’t) but it was well-regarded by those willing to take that dark and quirky journey of the soul.

The same trio responsible for Young Adult (Reitman, scriptwriter Diablo Cody and lead Charlize Theron) is back for another wallop of truth that’s bound to upset the “children are blessings” crowd.

Tully opens as a horror movie: Marlo (Theron), a harried mother of two, struggles to juggle the children (one of them with special needs), household chores, and the impending arrival of a third kid. This is not one of those cute “how does she manage” scenarios: self-maintenance has fallen far by the wayside and Marlo’s well-meaning but useless husband is no help.

Marlo’s brother offers to pay for a night nanny, a gift she’s reluctant to accept because she wants to bond with the baby. A few weeks later and about to drop from exhaustion, bonding be damned — she’s ready for the nanny. Lo and behold, the titular Tully (Mackenzie Davis, Halt And Catch Fire) appears. A gentle, slightly off-kilter soul, Tully restores basic household functioning but more importantly rescues Marlo from her funk.

Just so you know, this is not Mary Poppins nor is Tully a manic pixie dream girl, though a very solid opening gives way to a movie that doesn’t go the way you’d think.

For those who believe that the Oscars are an indicator of quality, I give you Diablo Cody. The stripper-turned-scriptwriter won an Academy Award for the painfully rough, overwritten Juno, an act she followed with the Mean Girls-knockoff  Jennifer’s Body. Since then, Cody has polished her work considerably, and the poignancy of her writing is now matched by nuance. I would venture that Tully is, alongside Young Adult, her best work to date.

I have long said movies should be evaluated for what they are and not by what we want them to be. The Beguiled doesn’t need to tackle slavery if it’s inconsequential to the plot; one can’t slam Isle of Dogs for cultural appropriation just because that’s the trendy criticism these days. For the same reason, I won’t give Tully a hard time for being so white (there are minorities in supporting roles, but not in the main ones). There is a “first-world-problems” vibe that makes it difficult to fully empathize with Charlize Theron’s character, though. Sure, she has a hard time in the movie, but her “get out of jail free” card (money!) softens the punches.

Caveats and all, Tully is worth sitting through. It also might keep you from having children.