Marlo (Charlize Theron) is finding life getting her down. She is pregnant with her third child, and has days to go before the birth, but her other two children are proving a handful, in particular her son Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica) who is suffering behavioural issues. He may be autistic, he may have something else wrong with him, he may grow out of all this in time, but all anyone calls him at the moment is "quirky", which is no help to Marlo whatsoever, having to deal with his tantrums and moods every day. Her husband, Drew (Ron Livingston), is little help; he does his best, but the demands of a high pressure job to keep their heads above water means he is hardly around...
Tully was the second collaboration between star Theron, screenwriter Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman after the cult black comedy Young Adult - Reitman and Cody had made their names as creators of Juno back in their very early careers. It contained a similar sense of humour in that you could look at this from some angles and not see anything amusing about it at all, for the subject here was post-natal depression which, after Marlo has her new baby, proves pressing since she simply cannot cope with the needs either of her family or herself. The sleep deprivation was especially well-realised, with Theron achingly convincing as a woman barely able to put one foot in front of another.
That sense of weakness in the face of life's problems was something many could relate to, be that specifically the weight motherhood places upon a woman or a different pressure from an alternative view that makes such a deep impression that the sufferer struggles to get by. In fact, if you didn't know someone like Marlo was in mental trouble, the film implies you would be too wrapped up in your own existence to be able to afford assistance, or even a shoulder to cry on. The modern world has made us all selfish, was the unspoken accusation here, and that was not a good place to be if you were supposed to be looking after a newcomer to the slings and arrows it consists of ad infinitum.
Marlo is in dire need of someone to take a look at her and size her up, then offer advice and support as to how she can improve her lot. Her passive aggressive brother and sister-in-law make it clear they are dubious about her prospects of raising a happy brood, and to that end offer the services of a night nanny called Tully (Mackenzie Davis), partly to relieve their relative, partly to smugly demonstrate they, being far wealthier, have their lives all sorted and on course to satisfaction and fulfilment. But maybe they have the right idea, as Marlo discovers when the free-spirited Tully knocks on the door one evening as she is trying to put the baby to bed: this young lady has a calm about her that channels into a capability Marlo is unable to tap right now. The result? Her first good sleep in seemingly years.
Although a state of exhaustion existed for the protagonist that dragged not only her but everyone around her down, as if the mass of it was creating some kind of black hole sapping her energy levels dramatically, there were funny lines that Cody placed in her mouth, the sort of barbed wit from a female perspective she had made her own. The only real quibble was with the path she took to get to what was supposed to be a twist ending, but anyone who had seen the major movies with twists this followed would be well ahead of the movie, leaving the big reveal as more a confirmation of what you suspected. It might have been more effective had we been consciously aware of Tully's provenance earlier, so we could judge her actions through that prism; as it was, it was reminiscent of the body swap comedies of the nineteen-eighties without anyone actually swapping any bodies (well, not really). A well-meant film, no doubt, but when it was this heartfelt, it didn't require those gimmicks. Music by Rob Simonsen.