by Charlotte Harrison
J.M Barrie wrote that ‘All children, except one, grow up.’
The one exception he was describing was obviously Peter Pan, a child who chose to remain mischievous and free-spirited whilst the rest of us grow up. I’ve thought about that line a lot since watching Tully – did we chose to grow up? Were we forced to grow up? And what exactly does ‘grow up’ actually mean?
For one thing ‘grow up’ doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with ‘know what you’re doing’ or ‘have your shit together’. We’re gifted this label of ‘grown up’ and that’s it, isn’t it? We spend our childhoods waiting until we reach adulthood when it’s all sorted.
Do you remember the first time it hit you that, actually, not a single person knows what they are doing? Nobody has it together; we’re just very good at pretending. The actual moment you become a ‘grown up’ is when you realise that parents are actually ‘grown up’ children.
Now that’s a real mindbender of a revelation.
That leads us rather nicely to Tully itself; a film which feels the most honest portrayal of motherhood that cinema has brought us in a long time. It’s characters feel very true-to-life, almost painfully so…
Marlo (Charlize Theron) is a mother of two, soon to be mother of three. Life is stressful enough and her husband Drew (Ron Livingston) isn’t the most hands-on of dads. Worried that Marlo will fall into another bout of postpartum depression, her brother Craig (Mark Duplass) gifts her with the appointment of a night nanny. A night nanny takes over the household at night, looking after the new-born and helping out with the running of the house. It’s an extravagance that Marlo is hesitant to accept but greatly appreciates once she does so. Marlo quickly forms a unique and deep-bond with Tully (Mackenzie Davis), a young woman who is truly thoughtful and just a little bit odd…
The end result is a film that works very well, almost surprisingly so; it lingers after watching due to the heartfelt sweetness at its core. That’s because it feels so very true to life – they’re no delusions here about what motherhood can be like. It’s no-holes barred, often to an uncomfortable extent. Marlo isn’t a ‘grown-up’, she doesn’t really feel like one and feels completely inadequate at handling the life she has been given. She simply doesn’t feel good enough; a honest truth that feels truly refreshing to watch. How many other films reflect the imposter syndrome so many of us experience? How many other films actually make our imposter syndrome worse by showcasing an impossible reality that leads to our setting impossible expectations of ourselves?
Theron is simply fantastic in the lead role, affecting and touching as a mother on the brink. She’s immensely believable and as deeply flawed as the rest of us throughout, at times truly heart-breaking to watch when we’re helplessly watching her unravel. She has our empathy from the outset; albeit to the extent that those uncertain about having children may feel slightly more resolute about that decision…
Davis as Tully is the film’s MVP in a role that could have been just another Manic Pixie Dream Girl in the hands of another actress. Tully is a charming and vivacious free spirit; more individual oddball than quirky. Her arrival shifts the film tonally from a good-but-not-quite-great drama into something sparky, magical and slightly transcendent. Her rapport with Theron is joyous to watch, less buddy-movie and more a profoundly moving bond of two women at very different points within their lives. Diablo Cody’s dialogue is crisp, moving and multi-layered. Even the most mundane seeming bits of throwaway lines have a lingering profundity. The exchanges between Marlo and Tully have a breezy believably yet prompt revelatory reflection about the identity, image and self-definition.
Being a ‘grown up’ may not be as simple, easy or stable as we thought it might be. But we don’t have to do it alone.
Tully is out 4th May