Writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman’s last collaboration, Young Adult (2011) – an insightful, though underrated, film – followed an author’s visit to her hometown in a delusional attempt to win back her high school sweetheart. As Mavis, Charlize Theron played a shallow yet sympathetic beautiful woman with nothing but old mixtapes, a toy dog and Maker’s Mark to chase away her loneliness. After a disastrous visit, Mavis does a little soul-searching that provides both a realistic and revelatory ending.
Not so with Tully. As Marlo, Theron still has a background in writing, still loves the music of yesteryear and drinks Maker’s Mark. There’s even a toy dog cameo, but unlike Mavis, Marlo got the house, the husband and the children. In fact, she delivers baby number three at the film’s beginning and quickly proceeds to drown in a sea of sleepless nights and dirty diapers without help from her unavailable husband. Completely frayed, Marlo hires an overnight nanny, Tully, whose adroitness as a substitute mother is welcome, if a little unnerving. Younger and prettier than Marlo, Tully has yet to succumb to the ravages of general domestic bliss. Her youthful optimism and excellent homemaking reinvigorates Marlo.
Of course, Tully is, most importantly, a confidante to Marlo, allowing her to share her dreams, doubts and choices. When Tully announces she must leave, Marlo realizes she has grown dependent on her and has a Cody-style breakdown. Will Marlo go back to her zombie life as a mother? Can she convince Tully to stay? Or will she hold on to her newfound lease on life? The ending doesn’t provide any of these answers or any answers at all. It besieges audiences with discrepancies, plot holes and the question, “What was it all for?”
Theron and MacKenzie Davis put in powerful performances as Marlo and Tully, respectively. Theron fearlessly sinks into the mental abyss of Marlo, and Davis has a penetrating stare that reflects her need to know everything about Marlo--it’s nearly intimidating. Both characters are rooted in reality, and that’s what makes their final scene together such a disappointment; Cody takes the easy way out, robbing the story of any resolution. Perhaps she realized her story didn’t give her characters enough of a transformation, so she shoehorned them into an ending that sacrifices authenticity for shock. That’s no help at all.