Although Mother’s Day is a holiday meant to celebrate the joys of mothering and the impact those who mother have on all of our lives, mothers and motherhood itself can cause conflicting feelings for many people. Whether it’s a mother who feels in over her head, or a person who never had a caring mother, our culture is full of stories about the complications around motherhood. For the record, I have an outstanding mother, but as this Mother’s Day rolls around, I present a matchup between two angst-ridden stories about mothering: Tully vs Tallulah.
In Tully, Marlo (Charlize Theron) and Drew (Ron Livingston) are expecting their third child, and already have their hands full with their daughter, Sarah (Lia Frankland), and son, Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica), who has undiagnosed behavioral troubles. Marlo also experienced postpartum depression after Jonah’s birth, so her brother, Craig (Mark Duplass), gifts her a night nanny when her daughter is born, hoping that the help and gift of sleep will protect Marlo’s emotional and mental health. When the nanny, Tully (Mackenzie Davis), arrives, she is not what Marlo expected, but over the weeks that follow the two forge a friendship and Marlo flourishes under Tully’s care. Tully, however, is not as she appears.
Tully is a beautifully crafted film. The sets are rich and homey, visually representing the differences in the lifestyle between Marlo and her brother, while also grounding Marlo’s experiences in a very real looking home. As she transforms, so does the house in subtle ways that speak volumes. The film also features a motif of mermaids that represents the whimsical nature of Tully and Marlo’s relationship as well as Marlo feeling overwhelmed. Along the way, the screenplay drops breadcrumbs that hint at the film’s ending, but they are subtle and work to create an “ah-ha!” moment, even if, like me, you see the ending coming.
The performances in Tully are wonderful. Charlize Theron does a masterful job of depicting Marlo as totally exhausted, but also a woman who once had a lot of fire in her. Even when she is pretty down, her performance makes it clear that Marlo was once sharp and engaged. The trailer for the film does not do Ron Livingston’s Drew justice. The character is so much more than a checked-out father and husband, and Livingston’s performance draws out the nuance of his role. As Tully, Mackenzie Davis is charming and vivacious, and has great chemistry with Theron.
Tully is a portrait of motherhood and womanhood that is at once beautiful, sad, nuanced and charming. It does not offer a neat resolution, but instead dwells on the pieces of herself that Marlo gave up in becoming a mother and how she might, just maybe, get a piece of herself back. Tully was written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman. It runs 96 minutes and is rated R.
Streaming on Netflix, Tallulah tells the story of the title character, Lu (Ellen Page), who is trying to find her ex-boyfriend, Nico (Evan Jonigkeit) when she is asked by a drunk, careless, filthy rich mother, Carolyn (Tammy Blanchard) to watch her baby.
Carolyn has mistaken Lu as a maid at her fancy hotel, and when she shows no real interest in caring for her baby, Madison (Evangeline Ellis, Liliana Ellis), Lu impulsively takes Madison with her. She winds up on the doorstep of Nico’s mother, Margo (Allison Janney), who misses her estranged son and is going through a painful divorce. The two women, lost in their own ways, forge an unlikely friendship over the baby, who Margo is led to believe is her granddaughter.
On the surface, the plot of Tallulah sounds like a Lifetime movie, but the film is skillfully made and features solid performances from Ellen Page and the great Allison Janney. Each woman is a force in her own right, and together they have really dynamic and compelling scenes.
There is a lot going on in the story of this film, but the lead performances and the light touch it takes to Lu’s life off the beaten path make it an interesting watch. The film also features various portraits of mothers that implicitly ask what good mothering looks like, but, offers no pat answers. Tallulah was written and directed by Sian Heder. It runs 111 minutes and is rated TV-MA.
These two movies are similar in many ways, despite their drastically different plots. For example, whereas Marlo dreams of mermaids, Margo and Tallulah ponder losing gravity. If you can get to a theater, Tully is the slightly stronger film and is a poignant portrayal of motherhood, womanhood and partnership. If you can’t, Tallulah still provides a compelling story and fantastic performances.
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