By Gregg Shapiro
There are some movies that, if possible, need to be seen within the first week of opening. Often, they are movies with unexpected twists and surprises that are difficult to keep secret. “The Crying Game,” from 1992, was one of the best examples of that. “Tully” (Focus), which reunites “Juno”’s director Jason Reitman and Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody with their “Young Adult” star Charlize Theron, is another such movie.
Pregnant Marlo (Theron) is nearing the end of her rope. Days away from her due date, she looks like her belly could burst at any moment. A mother of two school-aged children, daughter Sarah (Lia Frankland) and “quirky” son Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica), Marlo has a history of instability during stressful periods.
When Marlo’s financially flourishing brother Craig (Mark Duplass) offers her and husband Drew (Ron Livingston) the unusual new baby gift of a night nanny, at first, they balk. Drew just thinks it’s a way for Craig, the kind of person who drives a Mercedes G-Class and has installed a new tiki bar in his house, to lord his wealth and success over them. Marlo isn’t sure that she wants a stranger in her house, bonding with her newborn.
Things change after Marlo gives birth to baby Mia. She’s even more exhausted than ever. Her sleep schedule, which includes recurring dreams about mermaids, is totally thrown out of whack. Additionally, she has to deal with the fact that Jonah, who is somewhere on the autism spectrum and regularly has meltdowns, is about to be “dismissed” from the private school he attends.
Marlo calls Tully (Mackenzie Davis), the night nanny. Tully, who is older than she looks, and is in great physical condition, immediately bonds with Mia. Marlo finally gets a good night’s sleep. Marlo and Drew are surprised the next morning to find that Tully, who says she “has an energy surplus…like Saudi Arabia”, has also cleaned and straightened the house.
Tully has a renewing effect on Marlo, who opens up about her personal life (including an earlier relationship with a woman named Violet). Marlo also begins to feel better about herself, taking time to care about her appearance (which she refers to as a “relief map from a war-torn country”) again. She appears happier than she’s been in a long time, singing karaoke with Sarah at her niece’s birthday party.
Tully can also be a negative influence. The waitress uniform scene, for instance. Or the night out on the town in Bushwick, complete with a “She’s So Unusual” soundtrack, which ends with Marlo’s car crashing over a bridge and plunging into the water. That is, however, all that can be said without giving away too much information.
Theron is amazing here, giving one of her most authentic and powerful performances, effortlessly personifying a person in the midst of a series of manic episodes. And Davis, who has a young Jennifer Garner quality, is a charmer.
Don’t dilly dally, see “Tully” before everyone else does. Rating: 3 1/2 peaches