REVIEW: “TULLY” (2018) Focus Features

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Let me preface this review by noting about the two previous films by the writing/directing duo of Ivan Reitman & Diablo Cody. “JUNO” – which I loved, and “YOUNG ADULT” – which I didn’t love so much. This is number three, and while I respect both of them, unless they were trying to make one of the most depressing movies about motherhood I’ve seen in sometime – I’m rolling with a great big WHAT? WENT? ON? HERE?

I realize many other critics are really liking this film so let me try to explain this as I saw it. “TULLY” centers around Charlize Theron as Marlo, a mother of two – soon to be three kids – who has to balance caring for them to the detriment of her own personal life and emotional well being. Marlo’s husband, Drew (Ron Livingston), is the epitome of the hands-off parent, either on the road for work or zoning out while playing video games in bed. Elsewhere, Marlo’s wealthy brother, Craig (Mark Duplass), and sister-in-law, Elyse (Elaine Tan), represent clichés of an equally deliberate kind – you know the type – that annoying couple that can afford to bypass parenting altogether because they can afford to. But then it’s Craig who provides his Marlo with the services of a night nanny (yes, it’s the first we’ve all heard of this type of job) Tully (Mackenzie Davis), and once Tully enters Marlo’s life, her world becomes magically better and the film’s secondary characters fade into the background and remain there. Tully is charming, but her relentless cheeriness and boundless compassion for Marlo belies something strange about her identity in the fact that she may, quite literally, be too good to be true. And this too-good-too-be-true nanny works tirelessly to shake Marlo out of her postpartum depression, Reitman begins to introduce magical-realist elements into the film—a nighttime excursion into the city, an somewhat amusing yet possibly one of the most uncomfortable bathroom breast-milk dumping scenes in film to date, that take us in his deliriously exhausted, weird lead character mindset.

Getting us to question the veracity of Tully’s existence is gimmicky enough, and then its resorts to using an overplayed and contrived narrative device to explain Tully’s inevitable departure from Marlo’s life. This my friends is the twist to the movie. Mercifully, the moment is matter-of-fact almost to the point that it doesn’t count as a “gotcha!” thing, but it still rankles. In the homestretch, the film unearths a number of issues that put us in the position of questioning the rejuvenated Marlo’s ability to be a good mother in the first place. But somehow addressing these concerns is avoided, sweeping them under the rug to clear the path for a happy ending that, as a result of such evasion, registers only as unintentionally disconcerting and giving me a huge disconnect to the entire film I just watched. It’s an unfortunate misstep in a film that initially suggests it’s a comedy – but with only a few sarcastic comedy jumps here and there – it’s again, mostly an almost tragically depressing drama.

I went to far as to asking some of the people that clapped after the film ended, what they saw that I might have missed. Turns out they were just clapping for clapping’s sake. As for performances, I did like Charlize quite a bit, and as a fan of Mackenzie Davis, she too excelled somewhat for me, even though in their whole parts together, they didn’t seem a great fit. Everyone else just seemed an after thought once the two leads took over. I didn’t hate this movie, I just truly had no idea what was going on as it didn’t seem to want to tell me. It just wanted to depress me. It’s also one I never want to watch again.

Grade: D+
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Review Screening: Thursday, April 26, 2018 ~ Courtesy of the PGA
“TULLY” WILL BE OUT IN THEATERS NATIONWIDE ON FRIDAY, MAY 4, 2018 // WORLDWIDE RELEASE TO FOLLOW MAY 2018

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REVIEW: “TABLE 19” (2017) Fox Searchlight

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Director Jeffrey Blitz and The Duplass Brothers writing team takes the approach with this one that I know many wedding guests would prefer – skip the wedding and head straight to the reception. Another wise move is assembling a very talented ensemble of funny folks. This cast proves they can get a laugh from dialogue and moments that would probably otherwise not elicit much of an audience reaction because frankly, it’s only the fact that they are talented that makes it happen.

The initial set-up drags a bit as we are introduced to the characters that will soon enough populate the dreaded Table 19 at the reception. Tony Revolori is Renzo, the longing for love high schooler who might be a bit too close to his mother (voiced by Margo Martindale). Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson are Bina & Jerry Kepp, a mostly unhappily married couple who own and run a diner together. June Squibb is Jo Flanagan, the bride’s long-forgotten nanny who sees and knows more than most. Stephen Merchant plays the outcast nephew/cousin Walter Thimple, who has been recently released from his prison sentence for white collar crime. Lastly we have Anna Kendrick as Eloise McGarry, the fired maid of honor and former girlfriend of the bride’s brother Teddy (Wyatt Russell), who also happens to be the best man and is now dating the new maid of honor Nikki (Amanda Crew)
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This is the island of misfit wedding guests known as Table 19, and purposefully placed in the back corner as far as possible from the family and the other more ‘favoured’ guests. Of course we know immediately that this Team Reject will unite for some uplifting purpose at some point. Comedic timing in a group setting can often come across on screen as forced, and it’s a kudos to the cast that can bypass that..somewhat. Stephen Merchant is our shining star here on that note with his droll Brit humour.

Make no mistake though, this is Anna Kendrick’s movie. She plays Eloise as we would imagine Anna Kendrick in this real life situation. Sure, a wedding reception is low-hanging fruit for comedy, but it’s the third act where Kendrick comes up with comedy drawn from emotional pain, because we’ve all been there and thankfully can look back and laugh at it. The melo-dramatic moments that creep in are oh-so-predictable, but that doesn’t mean it’s all lost. The scenes with Kendrick and Russell are best at the emotional part, but not enough so that it would really leave you wishing for more. In actuality that’s where this film slips up. I was hoping for more comedy, less emotional drama and while we get about a 2/3 – 1/3 ratio of drama to comedy, I wish it would have gone the direction of more laughs as the emotional front isn’t enough to sustain the film as a whole.
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Don’t worry though, the film features the required wedding cake mishap, a flirtatious hot-Brit wedding crasher named Huck with a secret of his own (Thomas Cocquerel) and a drunken mother of the bride (Becky Ann Baker) singing karaoke to Etta James’ “At Last”. It’s designed to be a crowd-pleaser, and while it doesn’t quite step up enough to really down and out laugh, it does somewhat succeed as rom-com-ish with a blend of silly, cute, and emotional tugs. Just not enough laughs.

Grade: C-
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Media Review Screening: Wednesday, March 1, 2017 ~ Courtesy of Fox Searchlight
Nationwide Release: Friday, March 3, 2017

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