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Review: Tully

Tully
Director    Jason Reitman
Starring    Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Ron Livingston, Mark Duplass
Release    4 MAY (US) 4 MAY (UK)    Certificate 15

Rating:


There are no ugly people in Hollywood, and as such the idea of ugging-up a bit for a role has become a "brave" one. It puts you in the awards conversation, as though peeling off some make-up or yellowing your teeth a bit reveals depth. This involves an acknowledgement that the profound is an exception, and I suppose that the industry is therefore preoccupied by surface sheen. For actresses this proposition also suggests that to be beautiful is to be shallow, which is a bit rich, since if they aren't beautiful they aren't allowed in the door. I think Charlize Theron largely transcends this, but she remains most critically celebrated when she's made to look her least pretty.
I say she transcends this because the last time I saw her was in Atomic Blonde, looking amazing while she twatted a procession of Stasi goons, and everyone including me praised her performance in that. There's nothing more complex about this than the fact she's a remarkably good actor. But I do think there's a special area of critical praise reserved for actresses when they dare to ditch the traditional starlet look, as if make-up somehow conceals the soul.

So here in Diablo Cody's story her Marlo is a mother of two, soon to be three, and dealing with all of it: a special-needs son whose head teacher is suggesting he might be more comfortable at another school, a husband who could probably stand to be a little more present, a fair old dose of sleep deprivation. When the third child comes along Jason Reitman gives us a procedural look at it, mainly focusing on the waiting around, scrolling through your phone while you wait for the contractions to close together, and it's largely a joyless affair. The following weeks are treated similarly, edited together as a stream of barely-awake night feeds and milk expressing.

Charlize, expressing with her full capabiiities.


There was a life before all this arrested it, hinted at by a chance encounter with an ex-partner, who still lives in the Bushwick loft they used to share in a presumably hip and carefree past. The later entrance of Tully, a night nanny hired as a gift for a month by Marlo's brother so she can get some kip, provides respite but also a vicarious thrill. She's free-spirited and tells Marlo about her dating life, offering up a window into the past and the sense of a sexual danger that's been absent for a while.

Where this is all heading is fairly obvious but there's more in the journey than in the destination. While the steps are a bit contrived it's in the character choices you find most to enjoy: Cody delights in placing zingers in Marlo's mouth without resorting to the full takedowns of her targets (the head teacher; her too-perfect sister-in-law) you know she wants to launch into. Ron Livingston as the husband does essentially what he always does, but he's written as a man with his priorities a little out of whack, not an absentee or a lazy goof-off.

The fact that Theron put on weight for the role should be the least significant thing about it but that's not where we live: it marks it out (both in a film's build-up promotion and its execution) as something of heft. When male actors do this they're usually cheered for the risks to their health they're willing to endure for the sake of their craft, while rumours abound about their commitment and intense on-set behaviour; actresses are more thought of as shedding a layer of beauty in order to play a character "meaningfully". Again, this sort of thinking supposes that the rest of the time they're just titting about in pretty dresses playing frothy side-pieces. Charlize Theron is doing nothing of the kind, but there's a pattern: the roles for which she gets the most props are ones which involve shedding make-up, shaving her head or stacking on some timber. This says more about the film industry and commentariat than it does about her.



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