Travel consideration to the “Tully” press event was provided. All photos by Beeb Ashcroft.
Last month, I flew to Los Angeles to attend an advance screening of the upcoming comedy-drama Tully and interview its cast and director. This film marks the second outing for actor Charlize Theron, director Jason Reitman and writer/producer Diablo Cody, who previously worked together on Young Adult in 2011. Tully follows the story of exhausted mom Marlo (Theron) leading up to the birth of her third child with husband Drew (Ron Livingston). As Marlo becomes increasingly overwhelmed by the unplanned pregnancy and caring for two older children, her worried brother Craig (Mark Duplass) offers to hire a night nanny named Tully (Mackenzie Davis) as a baby shower gift for Marlo. I found Tully to be refreshing in its originality and ability to be simultaneously funny and cutting, and looked forward to learning more about the process of bringing this multi-dimensional story to life.
During the Tully press conference with the film’s cast and director, I noted how the story walks the tightrope between humor and subject matter that is very serious – devastating, even – and asked how they found the right balance in order to make the tone work so well.
“She said ‘tone’ – that’s a director question,” laughed Theron as she looked expectantly at Reitman to elaborate.
“It starts with Diablo,” Reitman explained. “That’s where the DNA of this film is – and that’s how Diablo’s always written. She’s found things that could easily be considered tragic or dramatic. I mean, I even remember when I was making Juno and I would tell people, ‘I’m making a movie about teen pregnancy’ and they would go – ohhh. (Laughs) I’d say, no-no-no. It’s a comedy. It’s going to be funny. Really? And they’d be confused. And now, with each subsequent film I think people start to understand, oh, this is going to be a funny film, despite what we’re talking about. So I think that’s the thrill of reading her material, is that it’s right there on the page. The drama and the humor are intertwined.”
As the film unfolds, Marlo’s husband Drew (Livingston) and brother Craig (Duplass) are helpless bystanders watching Marlo as she spirals down. It would have been easy to fall back solely on the
trope of “Dopey dad/clueless man”, yet Tully executes a good balance of showing each character’s strengths and weaknesses in a way that felt much more real and true to life. Later in the press conference, Duplass elaborated on finding the nuance in his character.
“The character Craig is interesting to me because he at once is white, privileged male trying to tell a mom how to live her life – which is like – cut the man-splaining. Right?” said Duplass. “Right away it’s got a problem. But at the same time, the core of his message of being able to admit that you need some help – there’s no shame in that – is right. So I like that little complexity there.”
At one point in the film, Drew mentions that it was out of character for his wife to go out at night and “Leave the children alone”. When it is pointed out that he was still at home, so the children were not actually alone, you see a slow realization come across his face. For his part, Livingston thinks that fathers will need to become prouder of their role in order to avoid the imbalance that often happens as couples navigate parenting together.
“I think they have to get a little prouder about talking about it,” said Livingston. “I think a lot of dads, even if they are primary caregivers and even if they are great at it, they don’t want to brag about that during the football game, because it doesn’t go over well.”
One could argue that a viewing of Tully could serve as effective birth control for young people, and Reitman noted how it is often difficult to be fully honest when discussing the highs and lows of parenthood. “I think there is a current in our culture that we’re not really supposed to tell our kids about sex, because then they’re going to want to do it, and we’re not really supposed to tell them about child-rearing because then they won’t want to do it,” he laughed.
But despite the raw and real challenges portrayed in Tully, it still hasn’t scared Davis off from having children someday. “No, I’m all in,” she laughed.