Diablo Cody’s latest offering is as quirky and unflinching as we’ve come to expect from the author of Juno. The eponymous Tully (Mackenzie Davis) is a night-nanny, her services gifted to a reluctant Marlo (Charlize Theron) by her rich younger brother, Craig (Mark Duplass). Mark might be crass and boastful, but he knows how exhausting it can be to look after a newborn, especially when there are already two older children on the scene. Marlo and her husband, Drew (Ron Livingston), don’t like feeling beholden to Craig, but – after a scene at their son Jonah’s prestigious kindergarten, where the staff seem neither able nor willing to deal with his additional needs – Marlo concedes defeat. Drew is busy at work, chasing a promotion that will mean a lot to them, and she simply can’t cope with all she has to do. She calls Tully. And Tully changes things.
This is a deliciously honest account of family life and parenting: of the grinding drudgery of night-feeds and school runs, as well as the fierce love and joyous moments that make it all worthwhile. The characterisation is sharp: Marlo, Drew and their children are flawed, believable people, as three-dimensional as they come. They feel real, as if you know them – or people like them, anyway. Tully herself is less familiar, but that’s fine; viewed through Marlo’s eyes, she’s an angel, a saviour, who appears in the night like the elves for the shoemaker, cleaning and baking and taking care of everything.
There are a few moments in the film where I am suddenly unsure, uncomfortable, not convinced by what I see. But I’m glad I stick with it, because everything plays out satisfactorily, and all the things that don’t quite sit right are squared away.
Theron is very good indeed; she plays tired and frazzled with complete authenticity. I like Ron Livingston too; he treads a difficult line here, making Drew at once immensely likeable and irritating. Why does he sit upstairs playing computer games while his wife is falling apart? But he’s not uncaring, nor is he lazy – he does the kids’ baths and supervises homework every night, as well as working long hours – he’s just oblivious and unaware. Still, I do have one major gripe here, which I don’t think the film answers, and it’s this: why does Drew never introduce himself to Tully? She’s in his house every night, and he’s there as well. Why doesn’t he go downstairs and meet the woman who is looking after his baby? He’s a good father, invested in his kids. This makes no sense to me at all. Still, it’s not enough to spoil what is essentially a decent movie, entertaining and informative and very well worth the ticket price.