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Tully

Year: 2018
Production Co: BRON Studios
Director: Jason Reitman
Producer: Diablo Cody
Writer: Diablo Cody
Cast: Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Ron Livingston, Mark Duplass, Elaine Tan

This film weaves a very slow burn mystery in the background, making you wonder what's really going on and what it's really about. Who is the mysterious Tully (Mackenzie Davis) who shows up on Marlo's (Charlie Theron) doorstep and becomes the best friend she never knew she needed?

It's not presented as a mystery on the surface, but I can imagine some people getting bored waiting to find out if there is an answer to it all somewhere in the premise. If that's you, stay with it. Though it was little hinted in any of the marketing, there's actually a quite profound mystery to be solved, and when the film does so it wrangles a twist that could be counted among the best of them.

On the surface Tully just looks like a domestic drama, the definitive word on how exhausting and challenging it is to raise children, and it's very successful at doing that. Marlo's husband Drew (Ron Livingston) is understanding but has his own pressures at work, leaving Marlo to raise two kids and give birth to a third almost single handedly while she coasts along on desperation and bone-deep exhaustion.

One of the best things about the film is Theron herself. Just like she convinced us she was a snaggle toothed hillbilly serial killer in Monster, Theron (a woman who seems to embody the persona of a beautiful movie star) is entirely convincing as a normal suburban mother who can barely keep her eyes open anymore, with none of the pretensions or airs and graces you imagine someone like Theron herself having because of her wealth and fame.

Marlo and Drew have the baby, which adds to the workload of their precocious daughter and learning difficulty-afflicted son. The latter's principal is telling Marlo they can't handle him anymore and they need to find another school, Drew's work is getting busier and things are stretched to breaking point. When they visit her acerbic brother Craig (Mark Duplass) and his friendly enough but condescending trophy wife for dinner, Craig tells Drew and Marlo he wants to buy them a professional nanny.

They barely think any more about it, Marlo uninterested in having some stranger spends nights in their house and attend to her children. But (even though the movie doesn't make it very obvious she's taken her brother up on it – your first clue), late one night the effervescent Tully shows up, banishing Marlo to bed, looking after the kids and baby effortlessly, even cleaning the house.

Before long Tully is an indispensable helper and friend, Marlo getting plenty of sleep, having time to take care of her kids properly, even doing a dress-up sexual fantasy for her long neglected husband.

There's nothing special in the production design or cinematography – being a Diablo Cody script it's all story and character – but the film as a whole and the mystery about who Tully really is says something profound about what being grown ups and parents does to our lives. As well as being a pretty satisfying act of cinematic trickery it's a very insightful call to arms about how much sacrifice is too much.

How you respond to that call to arms will depend on your own views on parenting, but the script and Theron's performance make the best possible case for it.

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