Thursday, May 10, 2018

Tully

                             “All Through the Night”

(Lyric taken from the Cyndi Lauper recording of that name on her 1983 album, She’s So Unusual [although the song was written, first recorded earlier that year by Jules Shear]; here’s the official music video if you like, despite its poor image quality in this particular link [I looked at some others, found not much improvement] but maybe that helps convey the 1980s vibe very crucial to this film.)

                                                      Review by Ken Burke

                                    Tully (Jason Reitman)
                        
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): Marlo, a bedraggled-mother of 2 kids is on the verge of her 3rd despite the already-existing-stress of her son’s emotional imbalance and her workaholic-husband’s disinterest in “us time”; after the baby’s born, relief arrives in the person of a mid-20s “night nanny” named Tully who provides new insights for Marlo until complications arise, which can interpreted as intriguing or problematic, depending on your perspective but which can't be further explored here unless you delve into the spoiler aspects of this review located just below.

Here’s the trailer:  (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)


If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who want to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify any give-away sentences/sentence-clusters like this: 
⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐ OK, now continue on if you prefer.
                         
What Happens: Somewhere upstate but still close to NYC, we find Marlo (Charlize Theron), an early-middle-aged-mother of 2 small kids: 8-year-old-daughter Sarah (Lia Frankland), and son Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica), about 5; she’s also very pregnant (baby’s due in just a few days when this story begins) but married to a husband, Drew (Ron Livingston), who’s actively engaged in some sort of start-up-business keeping him busy as well as on the road much of the time.  He’s making an effort to be an available, effective father (whenever he’s home), but that's only a couple of hours a day with the offspring (at best), then after dinner he’s off to the bedroom but just to constantly play video games while Marlo’s life gets increasingly overwhelmed, not only after the new baby (Mia) arrives but also because Jonah’s often emotionally-unbalanced (frequently kicks the back of Marlo’s seat while she’s driving, is terrified by the sound of a flushing toilet) putting him at odds with the staff overseeing his kindergarten time at St. Vitus Elementary (possibly a dark pun by screenwriter Diablo Cody, referring to the herky-jerky-muscular-disorder Sydenham’s chorea, popularly called St. Vitus’ dance).  When Marlo finally reaches the breaking point of not being able to keep up with it all anymore (for dinner one night the best she can do is thaw out a frozen pizza, open a bag of chips; with Drew distracted upstairs, the kids in bed [until Mia starts crying on the baby monitor] she often zones out watching a reality TV series about gigolos, complete with on-screen-intercourse) she finally takes her wealthy brother, Craig (Mark Duplass)—with his huge house (a tiki bar in the basement), upscale-trendy wife, Elyse (Elaine Tan), well-behaved daughters, and a personality Drew privately-but-actively-detests—up on his suggestion she hire a night nanny who’ll keep Mia occupied when she starts crying, allowing Marlo to sleep except when it’s time to nurse which she can do in an almost-unconscious state.  When nanny Tully (Mackenzie Davis) arrives one evening she seems to be Marlo’s opposite in everything except gender, full of mid-20s’ confidence, casualness, positive attitude, most eager to integrate herself into this family’s structure.

 She’s a soothing influence for baby and mother, ready for her duties (with additions such as watching Marlo nurse at night), voluntarily contributing extra perks such as cleaning up the house or baking cupcakes for Jonah’s school (tasks Mom’s long been devoid of time or energy to even contemplate)—which Marlo brings as a peace offering to headmistress Laurie (Gamella Wright) after exploding at her the day before for suggesting Jonah would be better off in some other school environment, as well as have a 1-on1-aide (which Marlo and Drew can’t afford, but we don’t know whether Craig might be able to pay for it), rather than this well-appointed-one where Jonah was likely admitted only because Craig made a generous donation.  Tully also serves as a confidant and morale-booster for Marlo, ultimately leading to her (now rested, reengaged with life) spending awake time in the late hours with the nanny, sharing sangria while admitting how frustrated she is with her empty sex life, telling Tully how she long ago bought a waitress uniform to explore a favorite fantasy of Drew’s (but never used it) all of which leads to Tully in the costume seducing Drew with Marlo now the watcher, happily approving of this reawakening of her husband (he makes vague reference to the night’s events the next morning, but there’s no follow-up on the conversation—whether they follow up with their own sex life minus Tully isn’t something we'll learn about either).

 All begins to fall into place for Marlo, including Jonah's new school where he gets encouragement from a sympathetic teacher or a jogging session when Mom’s finally serious about losing her post-birth-girth (Theron bulked up for this role, gaining about 50 lbs.), when one night Tully shows up late, exasperated with her roommate.  Suddenly, she’s convinced Marlo they need to head into the city to shake off their mutual stagnation (shown in a driving montage set to Cyndi Lauper songs—implying the era of Marlo’s youth—a couple of which I borrowed for this posting) so they end up in her old Brooklyn neighborhood where, after a good bit of partying, Tully bluntly reveals she needs to move on, shaking Marlo to the core (although Tully helps her relieve the pain of a milk-filled-breast in a nightclub restroom—just with pinching, not sucking; this film’s not totally on the kinky side [although you won’t likely find such a lactation scene in many other mainstream stories]).  On the drive home, drunken Marlo dozes off sending the car down a riverbank, sinking deep into the water.

(As this review continues, you'll probably notice a boring sameness in the photos with no more of Tully
—despite the film's titledue to what I could find that's available to me.  Sorry for the repetition.)
 From this point on the film takes unexpected shifts (unless you’re better at picking up on The Sixth Sense  [M. Night Shyamalan, 1999]-type-clues than I am) as we see Tully as a mermaid swimming up to the car, opening the door, unlatching Marlo’s seat belt which shakes her awake, thus allowing Marlo to swim a good distance up to the surface.  Next, Drew rushes to the hospital, worried sick about his unconscious injured wife as Dr. Smythe (Colleen Wheeler) asks him if she’s had any history of mental problems; when he replies she’s been upbeat and well-rested lately the Doc says Marlo’s actually suffering from exhaustion.  Then when Drew fills out some paperwork we learn Marlo’s maiden name was Tully (!).  Later, Marlo’s visited by the woman we know as Tully with our understanding now she’s just an hallucination, a manifestation of Marlo’s younger self who tells Marlo it’s truly time for them to part.  Drew, not knowing anything about all this (he was only vaguely aware of the night nanny, not understanding she was never even there, that all the activity Marlo seemed to be sharing with Tully was done on her own, further wearing her down in a sort of bipolar state) offers his apology to his wife for not being more involved in family life, leading to a final scene of them happily chopping vegetables together in the kitchen, sharing a song on earbuds with seemingly everything now more balanced on the homefront (Jonah’s even requested Mom stop brushing his arms on a daily basis, an unspecified strategy to help keep him calm, with implications he no longer needs this “treatment” [maybe an acknowledgement it did him no good anyway?]).⇐

So What? What intrigued me about seeing Tully is its cinematic heritage, another collaboration between eloquent screenwriter Cody and skilled director Reitman (Juno, 2007; she took the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, he was nominated for directing it, plus other Oscar noms slightly later for Up in the Air [2009]), along with both of them connected to Theron in Young Adult (2011; review in our December 21, 2011 posting—one of the first ever for Two Guys in the Dark [where at least my paragraphs aren’t as horribly long as in many of my earlier postings but the layout’s still woefully underserved by supportive photos]), giving me the assumption this combination would yield another winner (I rated Young Adult as 3½ of 5 stars, closely approaching my usual limit of 4 [saving the higher numbers for something truly spectacular, would easily consider 4½ for Juno]), even though I was warned away from it by my local critical guru, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Mick LaSalle, who felt the story unsuccessfully wandered into territory better served by TV’s old paranormal series, Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone (original run was 1959-1964, with some additional versions added later).  I’ve often voiced public disagreement with LaSalle in various Two Guys reviews (not that he cares), but this time I must agree with him (he gave it the Chron’s equivalent of 2 of 4 [the Little Man simply sitting in his chair, not clapping; a 1 rating would be the Little Man asleep, with even worse being an empty chair, but I’ve now deduced Rotten Tomatoes translates that as 0 on a 1 to 4 scale so—at least according to how you calculate the abandoned-reviewer-designation—Mick is either on par with my 3 stars or a bit lower]) because, while I found the concept to be somewhat intriguing when a younger avatar offers guidance to the older woman’s manifestation (rather than the more usual business interviewers often ask of a public person, “What would you now tell your younger self?”) I find the script’s expectations of me too demanding (despite my normal admiration for Cody’s insights) along with its comfort in being questionable on many accounts.  Not the acting, though: Theron continues to demonstrate her Oscar-caliber-abilities (having won Best Actress for Monster [Patty Jenkins, 2003]) as this overwhelmed mother struggling to keep her sanity (maybe losing that fight at times) while Davis’ turn as a somewhat-latter-day-hippie might seem extreme at first, but when we realize she’s supposed to be an idealized-memory-made-flesh of Marlo it’s clear how well she’s embodied the role—just as Livingston effectively conveys a well-meaning-husband who’s let his career (and need to disengage himself from daily demands) as neither villain nor hero.

 After watching Tully (then researching it for this review), I’ve encountered a good many sentiments of praise for Theron’s depiction of the trials that any woman can experience (working from Cody’s well-articulated-foundational-script, according to remarks by Theron found farther below in the 2nd listing for this film in the Related Links section of this posting) attempting to be a full-time housewife and multi-child-mother, especially when one of the children presents inherent daily challenges,  as well as the solid support for the sincere presentation of a workable, mutually-supportive-bond between 2 women with no sense of competition for a job, a man, or an honored place in society, thereby easily passing the increasingly-better-known Bechdel Test* about whether women can be depicted in movies without simply being used as accessories to a man’s presence, power, and needs.  However, even Theron in that interview noted below admits she wouldn’t have appreciated such insights about the effective impact of Cody’s script until she’d had children herself  ⇒(even presumably with considerably better resources to aid her in their care than Marlo could ever have hoped for—Craig [who had such material options available to spare his wife the kind of pressures Marlo had to endure] supposedly was paying for Tully, another aspect of the hallucination but apparently one reported to Drew, further removing his awareness of what was actually happening during his sleeping hours)⇐  so I can feel a little less uncomfortable criticizing aspects of a film seemingly beloved by so many when I have no direct experience with parenthood (despite a short-lived-first-marriage years ago [one of the reasons for the breakup], followed by my immensely-longer [and happier] union now).  Then again, it’s not the motherhood-challenges nor female-bonding I’m finding fault with but, instead, the Marlo-Tully scenario as presented on screen.

*You can go here to learn considerably more about this challenge (in that passing this test has become increasingly more of a positive act in recent times), but the 3 primary criteria are: (1) There must be at least 2 primary women in the movie, (2) Who talk to each other, (3) About something other than a man.  Of course, in Tully there’s not only talk about a man (Drew) but coordinated action toward him on that most memorable night (for him but seemingly also for Marlo and Tully), although there’s considerably more interaction between these females involving many other topics.

 I realize you have to grant creative license to artists in any medium because if all narrative structures in plays, novels, films, TV—even comic books and song lyrics—have to adhere to strict logic (or even physics where most of the superhero/villain characters of Wonder Woman [Patty Jenkins, 2017; review in our June 8, 2017 posting] or Avengers: Infinity War [Anthony and Joe Russo; review in our May 3, 2018 posting] are concerned—not to mention how painting would be frozen into the Renaissance ideal, forever denying us the abstracted-visual-wonders of Monet, Matisse, Picasso, Pollock, Rauschenberg), then our artistic manifestations would easily become quite dull indeed, but even within the created worlds of stories we find on screen, stage, or printed page we expect certain levels of plausible continuity allowing us to lose ourselves in the fictional worlds presented rather than certain segments of our consciousness grinding to a halt to question aspects of what’s being presented even as our primary perceptions attempt to keep following what’s next in the chain of events, despite the distraction of the elements pulling us out of the experience rather than continuing to immerse us in it.  ⇒So, with Tully once Drew notes that surname for his wife while she’s recuperating in the hospital I see immediately who this “night nanny” is supposed to be but just as immediately I question how Diablo Cody could expect me to overlook certain confounding story elements (or maybe I’m just supposed to be so surprised at this revelation I don’t question its implications): (1) If Tully is Marlo’s family name then why doesn’t she make any comment about it to the young woman?  Is this fantasy so all-consuming (even though Marlo’s concocted it as a response to her daily stress, convincing herself she’s taken her brother’s advice—and money—even when she knows she hasn’t) she doesn’t even understand obvious aspects of it herself? (2) In retrospect we have to question not just the scenes where Tully appears (What actually occurred with Tully subtracted from the visual equation?  Clearly, Marlo was in Brooklyn drinking herself silly, in regret for the younger life she’s now moved on from, as well as driving home alone, yet how did she escape the car after it crashed into that deep river?) but even the ones where she’s not part of the flow, such as Drew asking Marlo about that previous night’s sexual encounter.  (Marlo in her present beefy-state couldn’t have fit into that waitress costume so was there any sex at all or was even the morning-after-scene part of Marlo’s vivid imagination?)⇐

 ⇒Further, (3) Not knowing much about the intricacies of the disruptive-reality once called manic-depression but now known as some form of bipolar-disorder, I can only wonder if Marlo’s rejuvenated self-image (in concert with Tully) could really power her through those creative nights where she’s still not getting much sleep (and hopefully taking proper care of Mia) so she could now be delightfully, energetically upbeat at occasions such as Sarah‘s school event, where they sing a duet of Carly Rae Jepsen’s "Call Me Maybe" (possibly a sly comment on how Marlo’s “just met” Tully but clearly desires to incorporate this attractive presence into her available-for-something-better-life—although this music video has its own payoff-surprise, as does Tully), running simply on adrenalin I guess, until her fateful car crash?  Maybe I’m not supposed to revisit these (and similar) aspects of the plot once I know Tully’s identity, but if it’s that easy for me to do so immediately upon seeing this concept what responses are appropriate ones from these filmmakers’ perspectives?*⇐

*I don’t have an answer from either Reitman or Cody, but here's one explanation of the film's ending, a 5:04 video including notations about some mothers having negative responses, angry at the implication Marlo wasn’t capable of dealing with the pressures of motherhood without giving herself over to a delusional-scenario, while others object to what’s being understood as a serious bout of postpartum depression or psychosis without Marlo seeking appropriate treatment, a charge questioned by psychiatrist Lauren M. Osborne in a well-explained response to Tully, although Theron and Davis offer their own (non-medical) impressions of what Tully’s conclusion indicates.

Bottom Line Final Comments: While Mick LaSalle and I are in general agreement about the unresolved problems with some of the concepts presented in Tully, we’re the ones out of the limb this time where the critical consensus is concerned as the positive reviews surveyed at Rotten Tomatoes rise to the highly-supportive-level of 87% while the normally-more-reserved-responses at Metacritic yield a 76% average score (which is still reasonably high for them, compared to their numbers for the various cinematic offerings where I’ve shared responses with those tallied by Metacritic so far this year [and consistently since I co-founded Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark, back in late 2011]).  Such praise (countered by the complaints about this film’s depiction of the complexities of motherhood, as noted above) hasn’t resulted in much box-office-success, though, with the opening weekend yielding only about $3.3 million in domestic (U.S.-Canada) venues (plus another $200,000 internationally) despite playing in 1,353 northern North American theaters (at my late-afternoon-Friday-screening there probably weren’t 10 other people in attendance), although such response was good enough for #5 on Box Office Mojo’s weekend tally (but with Avengers: Infinity War raking in almost $115 million those same few days it’s difficult for anything else to make much of an impact right now).  There’s great potential in the concept here (How many of us are still seeing our current world through the consciousness of our younger selves, holding ourselves quietly accountable for how our grandiose intentions have skewed off in unintended directions?) strengthened by solid acting, especially in the all-out-effort by Theron; however, even if you aren’t as bothered as some women are by the depiction of Marlo’s pre-and-post-birthing-state I think you can still find troubling script holes along with undeveloped plot points. (Some responses focus on the sudden brief appearance, in the film’s suburban setting, of Violet [can’t find a listing for the actor], Marlo’s old roommate [whom she parted from in a troubled manner, just as Tully’s having some sort of roommate problems], with wistful implications from Marlo about somehow reviving those Brooklyn years—as affirmations of Marlo's ongoing-bisexuality, celebrated by some not so much by others; I’ll leave that focus to your sensibilities, as it didn’t make a strong impression with me, but that could just be attributed—as many of my idiosyncratic observations are—to me being a clueless old straight guy rather than a hip Millennial.)

(In that both this film's intentional release date and my coincidental posting date are approaching
the celebration of Mother's Day
[May 13, 2018] I thought this image might be appropriate.)
 No matter how Tully might resonate with you, though, I hope you can at least enjoy my Musical Metaphor (the regular tactic to wrap up these reviews) about the kind of joy any woman (or man) yearns to experience (frequently, if possible), especially in throwing off the limitations of patriarchal expectations still imposed by traditionalist-aspects of our societies (found worldwide, not just in the U.S. culture I’m most indoctrinated in), another one of Cyndi Lauper’s tunes (used briefly in that driving-into-Brooklyn-montage), “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” (also from the 1983 She’s So Unusual album) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PIb6AZ dTr-A (a much better official video than the one for “All Through the Night,” although this song's also written and first recorded by someone else, Robert Hazard, in 1979) whether that fun is with guys, other girls (in bed or not, in either case), children, nightclubbing, or whatever else allows us to escape the doldrums of constant responsibility, lackluster relationships, perceptions of dead-end-lives (which Marlo, Drew, and their kids seem to have overcome, even if in too-easy-a-fashion after Marlo’s accident) as depicted with Lauper’s many colorful, energetic scenes culminating with revelers pouring out of an overcrowded room, taken directly from some guys who also just wanted to have fun (absurdist or satirical), the zany Marx Brothers, in their classic stateroom scene from A Night at the Opera (Sam Wood, 1935).

(Two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry leading the latest Golden State Warriors victory celebration.)

 I had something else in mind to also review for you this week but it didn’t work out so rather than make a last-minute-dash to a movie theater far away in hopes of finding something interesting instead I took my recent joy in Oakland’s Golden State Warriors basketballers once again progressing to the NBA’s Western Conference Finals by beating the New Orleans Pelicans (hope runs high for the Warriors as they’ve been Western Conference champs the last 3 years, NBA champs 2 of the 3) out to the Oakland (CA) Coliseum to watch my beloved Athletics baseballers take on last year’s World Series winners, the Houston Astros, possibly with omen-potential as the Warriors will be playing the mighty Houston Rockets next week in those Finals.  (OK, enough with the omen-hopes because the A’s lost to the Astros, 4-1, completing the sweep by losing the previous 2 games 16-2 and 4-2; I just hope the Rockets don’t take any Oakland-bashing-inspiration from that.  Where’s my native-Texan-loyalty, you ask?  Maybe somewhere at the bottom of Galveston Bay, possibly along with my Ball High School class ring [assuming it may have somehow ended up there also, as I haven’t seen either of those formerly-precious-things for years].)  So, until next time you find yourselves with Two Guys in the Dark (a chancy proposition), we’ll be signing off.
              
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
          
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.*  Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

*A Google software glitch causes every Two Guys posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to this Summary page; from then forward, though, this link is accurate.

Here’s more information about Tully:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QufdcRuQg1A (36:01 interview with director Jason Reitman and actors Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Ron Livingston; useful subtitles provided even though the audio’s fine for those who aren’t hearing-impaired)



Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at https://accounts.google.com/NewAccount if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my email address of kenburke409@gmail.com(But if you truly have too much time on your hands you might want to explore some even-longer-and-more-obtuse-than-my-film-reviews—if that even seems possible—academic articles about various cinematic topics at my website, https://kenburke.academia.edu, which could really give you something to talk to me about.)

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.  But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come.
          
OUR POSTINGS PROBABLY LOOK BEST ON THE MOST CURRENT VERSIONS OF MAC OS AND THE SAFARI WEB BROWSER (although Google Chrome usually is decent also); OTHERWISE, BE FOREWARNED THE LAYOUT MAY SEEM MESSY AT TIMES.
             
Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 5,827 (still considerably off our fantastically-larger-all-time-high, but we are making progress in slowly climbing up again); below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week (which I’m delighted to say recently has reached 5 of my hoped-for-6 continents [only South America is missing as I never expect any activity from Antarctica until the penguins get some Wi-Fi] so welcome, Algeria, because hits from Africa have been rare indeed; Russian interest has also been huge again recently, unless these are just hackers stealing what rightfully should have come from Argentina, but these days all seems to be fair in love, war, politics, and the Internet):

2 comments:

  1. While I found Tully to be something of a cheat with its classic misdirection (which was not totally spelled out to the casual observer), the impact of the two women's interactions became stronger in retrospect as the viewer digests the reality of mental illness in cases like this. Certainly it could have been illustrated even stronger if the mother's psychosis resulted in the murder of her children or suicide. The film's strengths include a look at struggling middle America where the family can't afford the best healthcare support and the older seventies home is suburban reality for most. There were some "politically incorrect" implications such as these kinds of illnesses may be genetically carried forward and most postpartum psychosis remains undiagnosed unless drama results. Perhaps some of the medical profession's pushback on the "happy ever after" conclusion was the result of editing decisions. A more careful look at the journey out of postpartum psychosis would have been interesting as well.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi rj, Very erudite comments, certainly more succinct than mine even though we're generally in the same direction with them. I found Tully to be quite intriguing (certainly one of the better options available to me last week), but given what I'd seen from the collaboration of this screenwriter, director, and star previously I just didn't think it all came together as effectively as it might have, as you clearly note. Ken

    ReplyDelete