Movie Review: ‘Juno’ writer, director reunite for masterful dramedy ‘Tully’

WTOP's Jason Fraley reviews 'Tully' (Jason Fraley)

WASHINGTON — It’s easy to take for granted the greatness and importance of “Juno” (2007).

Our most vivid memories recall Ellen Page and Michael Cera tackling a teenage pregnancy, but how quickly we forget that her parents were a pair of future Oscar winners, J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney, not to mention a supporting cast of Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner.

Still, the real secret sauce was the Oscar-winning script by Diablo Cody (“Young Adult”) and direction by Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air”), who reunite for the first time in 11 years for “Tully,” a dramedy you’ll love so much that you’ll want to rewind and watch it all over again.

The film follows Marlo (Charlize Theron), a sleepless mother of three whose crying newborn causes her to finally break down and hire a night nanny named Tully (Mackenzie Davis). Together, the two form a unique bond, learning unexpected life lessons from each other.

It’s nice to see Davis land such a prominent role after bit parts in “The Martian” (2015), “Blade Runner 2049” (2017) and TV’s “Halt and Catch Fire” (2014) and “Black Mirror” (2016). In “Tully,” she is entirely winning in the title role, playing the nanny with the bubbly charm of Mary Poppins but with a Millennial sensibility, a free spirit giving wise-beyond-her-years advice.

Of course, the real joy is watching Theron warm up to the nanny, greeting her with initial skepticism before gradually trusting her as a welcome sounding board. Like her Oscar-winning makeover in “Monster” (2003), Theron gained 50 pounds over three months for “Tully,” a transformation epitomized in a scene where her child spills a drink, forcing her to take off her shirt. “Mom, what’s wrong with your body?” Theron’s eye daggers are priceless.

It’s these little moments that Reitman captures so well with cinematographer Eric Steelberg, painting domestic compositions like Theron lying exhausted on the couch as her kids play as silhouettes behind a curtain. Still, Reitman’s best touch is a series of child-rearing montages, using Stefan Grube’s precision edits and Rob Simonsen’s pulsating score to create a rapid tempo of diaper changes and breast feeding that earns mad respect for what moms endure.

Such maternal respect is prevalent in Cody’s biting script, featuring her signature zingers as Marlo sighs, “Your twenties are great, but then your thirties come around the corner like a garbage truck at 5 a.m.” When Tully suggests, “You can’t fix the parts without treating the whole,” Marlo spits back sexual innuendo: “No one’s treated my hole in a really long time.”

But Cody’s script isn’t just a collection of great dialogue. Its greatest strength is its “grass is greener” theme, exploring stability vs. freedom at different stages in life. Marlo misses the unencumbered lifestyle that Tully enjoys, while Tully admires the family Marlo has built: “You’re convinced you’re this failure, but you actually made your biggest dream come true.”

As Act Two unfolds, you’ll be on the fence as to where the film is headed, thanks to two scenes that appear to stick out like sore thumbs: a bedroom role-playing gag and a nostalgic Brooklyn bike ride. Then, with a genius Act Three reveal, suddenly it all makes sense. It’s that rare case where the final reveal turns the previous questionable scenes into the best scenes.

Thus, the film is guaranteed to repay on repeat viewings. As you leave the theater, you’ll ponder the role of Ron Livingston’s detached husband, who routinely retreats to his room to hide under a video game headset. It’s Cody’s intention that Livingston has no idea what his wife is doing downstairs. Their drifting marriage might just be the film’s takeaway message.

It’s rare that a movie makes you want to watch it again and again. “Tully” is that kind of movie, joining “A Quiet Place” and “Black Panther” as my three favorites of the year so far in 2018.

This content was republished with permission from CNN.

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