“I’m Paul Barlow, and this is my daughter Jo.”

“Malone.”

“You got a first name?”

“Yeah.”

Tully

No, it’s not the sequel to SULLY, smart guy. It’s also not the sequel to BULLY. It’s not the monster from Sesame Street, it’s not the founder of the coffee chain, and it’s not the device that’s a wheel and the rope goes around it to lift things up. It’s just TULLY. That’s the name of a character. I’ll explain it later. Be patient.

One thing I always get excited about: a new Diablo Cody movie. I liked JUNO and JENNIFER’S BODY was interesting and I even saw the movie she directed, PARADISE (though I don’t seem to have reviewed it), and though she said she didn’t rewrite much on the EVIL DEAD remake, she either helped make it great or didn’t screw it up.

But it’s YOUNG ADULT that made her one of my favorite screenwriters. I gotta proselytize for that movie all the time. It speaks deeply to my darkest thoughts as somebody who left the suburbs, didn’t end up being a regular grown up type person, and alternates between pitying and envying the perfectly fine people who did it the normal way and have kids and houses and cars and money and shit. And it’s one of the very best roles for one of my very favorite actresses, our Furiosa, Charlize Theron.

Also I gotta mention RICKI AND THE FLASH because that one is even more personally meaningful to me even though the character is older than me and has a grown family and well-to-do ex-husband and stuff. Still, Ricki’s sense of fulfillment and family found playing cover songs to small groups of bar patrons – that’s me. I feel that here.

Well, TULLY is Cody’s new one, reunited with Theron and JUNO/YOUNG ADULT director Jason Reitman. This one is about the stress of parenting, so it’s kind of like the middle chapter of a trilogy between YOUNG ADULT and RICKI. This one definitely is more for someone else, it doesn’t link up with my feelings and worries and life experience the way those other two do, but Cody’s usual observant wit, dry humor and relatably flawed characters, plus another knockout performance by Theron, still made me love it. And I’m sure some of you with kids will feel blessed to have it in your life. I’m tempted to say “this will be your SCARFACE,” but that would be an exaggeration. (MR. MOM is your SCARFACE, right?)

Theron plays Marlo, just before and after giving birth to her third child. She’s on maternity leave but has lots of work to do with her son Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica), who needs special care and throws violent tantrums over things like which parking lot mom parks in or the sound of a flushing toilet, but is termed “quirky” by the expensive private school they go to (thanks to donations from her rich brother Craig [Mark Duplass, ZERO DARK THIRTY]).

There are tensions with her brother and his wife Elyse (Elaine Tan, OUT FOR A KILL). Her husband Drew (Ron Livingston, KING OF THE ANTS) thinks they hate him. Marlo makes fun of Craig’s car and other conspicuous consumption. It leads to more bitterness when he says he wants to pay to hire a night nanny so they can sleep. Marlo takes it as an insult to her mothering skills, and since Elyse recommends it from experience she takes the refusal as an insult of hers.

But then it happens. Tully (Mackenzie Davis, THE MARTIAN, BLADE RUNNER 2049) arrives like some wide-eyed new age Mary Poppins, a young passionate spirit who looks at the baby with awe and dedicates herself to improving Marlo’s life any way she can: cleaning the house, baking, figuring out how to spice up her marriage. Much of the movie takes place at night when Marlo is awake talking to Tully, having fun, absorbing uncynical positivity, remembering what it was like to have her own.

Marlo is another complicated Cody character, though not ever as mean as Mavis, Ricki or even Juno. She does get to yell at people a few times when she’s at the end of her rope, but the difficulty of her parenting responsibilities make it more forgivable. Her human flaws are about admitting sometimes she hates being a mom, that her kids can piss her off, that sometimes she’s too tired to do all the perfect mom shit.

Tully is a perfect embodiment of youthful enthusiasm: comically positive and un-self-conscious, but so effective at her job that it’s more cute than annoying. We can envy her energy, adventurousness and can-do attitude without hating her for it because it’s all such a godsend for at-the-end-of-her-rope Marlo.

Cody is good at making everything a little more nuanced than the formula demands. By all expectations Craig should be kind of the bad guy, at least for a while, but he actually seems like a really cool and caring brother, and the rich-guy stuff the movie kinda teases him for (like building a tiki bar and buying the kids a karaoke machine) are honestly things I would guess Cody might be into. Drew is also kind of a doofus who isn’t picking up on some things he should be doing as a husband, but he also seems to be making a genuine effort and frequently checking in to see if she’s okay.

Elyse is the character who gets the most laughs at her expense, and maybe the uptight sister-in-law is an easy target, but she also seems like a perfectly nice person who is just cut from a different cloth than Marlo (and most of the audience). I absolutely love the joke that JOKE SPOILER before dinner she says “Siri, play hip hop,” especially since Siri makes a good choice, “Electric Relaxation” by A Tribe Called Quest. I don’t think she deserves anything from Midnight Marauders if she can only request it by genre. But they do their best to help Marlo and her family and if you think it would be charming to see Charlize help her shy daughter (Lia Frankland) karaoke “Call Me Maybe” then I have some good new for you. It’s about the movie TULLY. (There is a scene where that happens in the movie TULLY.)

Another great use of popular music is when Tully convinces Marlo to drive into the city with her and they’re listening to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” in the car. Pretty on the nose there, huh Reitman? But then there’s a cut and they’re listening to “Time After Time” and then “All Through the Night” or something and basically this is like real life where it takes a long time to drive places and sometimes you can sit and listen to the whole She’s So Unusual album and it’s not just about girls wanting to have fun, there are other considerations here.

The story swerves in a pretty crazy direction that you (or at least I) don’t expect in a drama-comedy like this, and I think some critics are doing the movie a disservice by making a big deal out of it. I liked the choice – it’s unusual and leaves you with some things to puzzle about. I think some people are only looking at the technique and neglecting the meaning, which to me is the more notable part. I’m not saying it’s the same or as good, but it’s kind of like the people who complained about the ending of THE GAME. Sure, you could get rid of it, but then all the sudden you wouldn’t have a movie anymore, or at least not one that’s about what the filmmakers set out to make a movie about.

For me TULLY doesn’t at all top the other Cody-Theron joint, but it’s still very good, and I’ll take as many of them as they’re willing to give us. Reitman can help too if he wants. He’s done well so far.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Monday, May 14th, 2018 at 11:13 am and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

11 Responses to “Tully”

  1. Nice piece, Vern. Tully is now at the top of my “To See” list.

  2. Is this a Tully Blanchard biopic?

  3. I love Cody’s work, but it will be a beautiful day in America when she writes a movie where none of the characters have names that sound more like graffiti tags than they do names a parent would give to an actual human child.

  4. In all fairness, parents GIVE their kids weird names these days.

  5. I think giving characters distinct names, even if they’re unrealistic, is just smart writing. I think people naturally feel more sympathetic to a character whose name they remember, which is unlikely to happen if everyone is named Dan and Jen or whatever other generic novelty license plate names basic-ass honkeys call each other. Writers who are good at creating catchy names often have numerous iconic characters to their credit, from Sylvester Stallone to J.K. Rowling to (especially) George Lucas. Somehow I don’t think the STAR WARS cast would be as iconic if they were named Lou Simmons, Hank Smith, Lisa O’Conner, and Oliver Kennedy. Most of the names are pretty on the nose, but they stick in the craw. That’s half the battle in getting an audience to view a character as an individual.

  6. Yeah, in principle I agree with you, at least to a point. I write genre fiction and play D&D and I love coming up with names for my characters that aren’t rooted in your typical Dan/Steve/Donna traditions. Long ago, a friend of mine wrote a musical about a traveling enema salesman named Norbert Emeritus Norberg, whom I had named. Why it wasn’t a smash success is anyone’s guess.

    I guess in the stuff I view or read, though, it’s either a genre thing or a question of how heightened of an approach the filmmaker takes. I appreciate your examples but i think it cuts both ways. Like, “When Harry Met Sally” might not have been such a popular or enduring movie if it had been called “When Tully Met Marlo”.

    I don’t fault Cody for doing what works for her, and if the characters’ names help her movies endure, so much the better, they deserve to. but as her and/or Reitman’s talents season and as their approach becomes a little more down to earth, i find the names pull me out of the movie in a way they don’t when the tone of the whole thing is heightened, like in Juno.

  7. I once knew a guy who was named Jo Jo Two Shields. He was a Native American from Oklahoma. I always thought that he would make an awesome character.

  8. I guess I tend to like writers with a knack for crazy names (Spike Lee, George Miller, Sylvester Stallone), but I disagree that Cody is one of them. The weirdest name in the movie is Marlo and I don’t think that’s weird at all. There’s a reason for the other slightly odd name which you will understand if you see the movie. The other names are Craig, Drew, Elyse, Jonah, Sarah, Emmy. The names in YOUNG ADULT are also normal except for Mavis, which was my next door neighbor’s name growing up, but admittedly seems like a name not used in Charlize’s generation.

  9. As long as we’re keeping score, after posting i went back and looked up the character names in Ricki & The Flash, and the most out-there one is Buster, so it’s true, in general we’re not talking Mad Max levels of extremity here. I am gonna respectfully disagree about a suburban housewife with the name Marlo being normal though. I like it as a woman’s name a lot, but if I lived in the suburbs and my neighbor was a woman named Marlo I’d think it was cool and unusual, and I’d probably wonder if there was a story behind it, and maybe even ask her about it if we got comfortable around each other. And then we’d maybe go on a date or something. Wait, what were we talking about? Oh right, movies.

    All I’m really trying to say is that back when Cody’s dialogue was liberally peppered with lines like “That’s one little doodle that can’t be undid, home-skillet,” names like Juno MacGuff seemed a little more in keeping with the overall stylized tone. Ricki & The Flash’s more grounded sensibility (the most out-there touch that i can remember in that movie was the running gag about people getting $500 in cash back at the grocery store, which probably isn’t even too far from the truth in LA) was complemented by the main character being named Ricki and not, I dunno, Demeter or Percy or something. But you’re right, I haven’t seen Tully yet, so it’s not fair of me to judge how well the names work with the overall approach this time around. I’m planning to check it out soon.

  10. I keep hearing the ending of this one takes an unexpected turn, and all I can think of is that this is a stealth BABADOOK sequel.

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