Everyone’s job in the movie business is to make things up – your title is just the most honest about it.
The director pretends there’s a grand vision in place with every shot, even if self-doubt has turned them into an insomniac. Actors convey real emotions even when the circumstances are clearly artificial. Make-up artists, prop buyers, gaffers, grips - they’re all working with various canvases to heighten certain truths and, other times, invent them out of thin air. And then there’s producers, who only get films made by lying all the time and to everyone (including themselves) about the viability of a project happening, and then ever turning a profit. When it does, they’re geniuses. When it doesn’t, other people just “didn’t get it”.
A movie like Tully was never looking to be a box-office juggernaut. Of course neither was Juno, the first collaboration between director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody, so for them to pretend like that kind of commercial success isn’t still in the back of everyone’s mind who made this film would be a little disingenuous. But there is nothing in the story decisions that suggests Tully is aiming for zeitgeist appeal. It’s about a mother, played with unflinching honesty by Charlize Theron, who just can’t quite connect with her newborn third child. Overwhelmed by her two grade-school aged kids (and especially a high needs son), the family hires a night nanny to do the heavy lifting of 2am wake-ups with the baby. And it all seems to go really well. Too well, because this is a movie, obviously, and at some point the other shoe has to drop.
When it does, it’s a real kick in the pants.
Part of what makes the film hard to talk about is that the real issues the movie deals with hinge on discussing where this grown-up Mary Poppins story ends up. There was a particular point in the movie where I turned to my wife, smiled, and said “alright, movie’s done - let’s go home and get a night nanny!”. Clearly things were not going to get any better than where they went (from my perspective), and it was all going to be downhill consequences from there. It made me temporarily think “is it possible to make a movie where nothing bad happens? Where only solutions are presented instead of more problems?”. Of course not, because that’s not how life is - and movies shouldn’t be either. Even if we’re all just making this stuff up.
A fictional movie like Tully doesn’t work unless it’s grounded in some ugly and honest truths, and it wears this authenticity like a badge of honour, never letting the highs get too high, or the laughs feel like gags. Not exactly what I may have been looking for on a date night away from the kids with my wife, but some of the moments have already created a short-hand for us in discussing our own dynamics. Because we all have times we feel like Charlize Theron’s character, but also moment’s that we’re reminded of the Tully inside of us.