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The Independent Critic

Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Ron Livingston, Mark Duplass, Elaine Tan, Asher Miles Fallica, Gameela Wright
Jason Reitman
Diablo Cody
Rated R
96 Mins.
Focus Features

 "Tully" Kicks off the 15th Anniversary Indy Film Fest 
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A nearly packed house gathered inside the Toby Theater inside Newfields, a 500+ theater that remains one of Indy's most under-appreciated screening spots and the main screening room for the Indy Film Fest, for the fest's opening night film Tully, from director Jason Reitman and Academy Award-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody. 

The third collaboration for Reitman and Cody, after the Academy Award-winning Juno and the acclaimed but under-appreciated Young Adult, Tully is a far richer and immensely more satisfying cinematic experience than you may be expecting if you've checked out the film's trailer featuring Charlize Theron as what appears to be a stressed out mom who finds salvation in the presence of a "night nanny." 

Tully is about a stressed out mom played by Theron, though the film is much, much more. 

In the film, Theron is Marlo, a formerly free-spirited Brooklynite turned burned-out momma with two kids, including one, Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica), who is described by nearly everyone he encounters as "quirky" in that politely impolite way that unknowing adults, even educated ones, try to describe children whom they deem to be a "problem." Marlo is kind of happily married to Drew (Ron Livingston), the kind of hard-working guy who means well but seems to think that working hard at the office all day entitles him to late-night gaming with the headset on while Marlo continues to take care of the kids, the house, schoolwork and, if there's any time left in the day, and there never is, herself. 

We meet Marlo and family within days of the birth of their third child, though the obvious exhaustion she wears throughout every fiber of her being can't help everyone around her from complicating her already overly complicated life from the school principal (Gameela Wright) who has concerns about her school's ability to meet Jonah's needs to quiet, under the breath comments from a disapproving stranger toward Marlo's late pregnancy coffee choices. 

When her seemingly wealthy, semi-jerk of a brother (Mark Duplass) makes an offer that exists somewhere between pitiful sincerity and precious condescension to provide Marlo the services of a "night nanny" for a few weeks after the baby is born, she resists the notion that she can't handle her maternal responsibilities. 

Let's just say that Marlo, after one too many Jonah meltdowns and episodes of spilled breast milk, changes her mind. 

Then, one night, in walks Tully (Mackenzie Davis), the sort of angelic twentysomething whose mere presence suggests some angelic halo with maternal instincts and a nurturing soul. She's exactly what Marlo needs and, in a strange way, exactly how Marlo used to be years ago. 

As I left the theater after watching Tully, I wondered aloud "What did I just see?"

As the night progressed, I couldn't stop thinking about Tully. I found myself obsessing Cody's dialogue in a way I'd never obsessed on Cody's dialogue, not even for Juno. I found myself obsessing on Tully's imagery and the ways in which Charlize Theron so fearlessly threw herself into the role of Marlo, a desperately exhausted mother and wife whose entire being wears that exhaustion like it's buried down deep within her soul. Theron has given a lot of magnificent performances, but Tully is absolutely one of her best. There's a refreshing honesty about Tully's Marlo, an acknowledgement that motherhood is hard and exhausting and sometimes unrewarding and not always a blessing. Sometimes, no matter how much you love your kids and your husband sometimes being a mother just plain fucking sucks. It says a lot about Theron's performance that you never once believed that she wouldn't absolutely kill herself for her kids, though it also says a lot about her performance that you can't help but wonder if she might be doing it. 

Mackenzie Davis, most familiar from television's Halt and Catch Fire, is an absolute powerhouse as Tully, Davis's Tully is not only a night nanny extraordinaire but quickly becomes even more with Marlo - confidante, friend, life coach and more. Ron Livingston wisely underplays as Drew, playing an emotional polar opposite to the more histrionic Marlo yet never allowing Drew to become a caricature or bad guy. Mark Duplass hits all the right notes as Marlo's Mercedes G-Wagon driving brother, whose transcendence over the rough childhood he shared with Marlo perhaps intensifies Marlo's sense of loneliness and depression. Young Asher Miles Fallica also is terrific as Jonah, whose behaviors will likely hint at autism for most viewers yet Cody is far too intelligent of a writer to go for easy labels. She's got much more going on here. 

While Diablo Cody picked up an Academy Award for her Juno screenplay, rest assured that Tully is her best work yet. There's something about her collaborations with Reitman that just plain work wonders and here she's gained a maturity and widened emotional range that is just immensely satisfying. Cody largely avoids her hipster tendencies and grounds Tully in a deep naturalism, even the film's frequent under-the-breath asides feeling genuine and honest. She still finds the humor. In fact, Tully is quite frequently funny, yet Tully is also a ballsier work that goes in directions I didn't expect but made me fall in love with it even more. 

I mean, seriously. It may not be a perfect film, but I seriously loved this film.

Tully is due to open in theaters on May 4th and it's the kind of film you can't help but root for if you care about intellectually stimulating, emotionally honest and just plain damn good filmmaking. 

Tully marks yet another stellar opening film for Indy Film Fest, which in recent years has had quite the run of unique, inspired and just plain freaking brilliant opening nighters. While this was the film's only screening at the festival, you'll get your chance to check it out when it opens up in theaters on May 4th with Focus Features. 

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic