When writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman collaborate (as they did earlier in Juno and Young Adult), the result is always an interesting bit of social philosophy set within the institution of family. Tully is their latest work, with a special emphasis on the trial and meaning of motherhood in today’s world.
We meet Marlo (Charlize Theron) shortly before her third child is born. She already is struggling to cope with the first two children and the romantically cooled off relationship with her husband Drew (Ron Livingston). Her brother, Craig (Mark Duplass), offers to pay for a night nanny to help Marlo get rest after the new baby is born. But Marlo resists the idea of having someone come in at night to care for the baby. Soon, however, it’s just too much for her, so she finds her brother’s note and a young woman named Tully (Mackenzie Davis) arrives.
Tully is full of energy, just as Marlo is worn out. Tully is bright and perky, where Marlo is sullen and depressed. Yet the two women have a great deal in common and soon create a bond that allows Marlo to unburden herself of all the things she has been holding inside. This seems a wonderful therapeutic relationship that touches all the difficulties in Marlo’s life. Except…. (Yes, there is something more that I will not spoil here.)
Although a driving force in the story is Marlo’s post-partum depression, that can easily be expanded to the sense of ennui that often fills people lives just as they are reaching the point in life where they may think they should be finding happiness and fulfillment. It is not uncommon to instead discover life has become routine, perhaps even boring. We may miss the excitement of falling in and out of love and discovering new relationships. The responsibilities of family and work may fill our days so much that we fail to appreciate the treasures that might be there.
The wisdom that Tully brings to Marlo’s life is the truth that finding such a boring place in life is really the sign of success. That boredom comes from having a life where love and security are so common that they go unnoticed. The search for love and security may seem exciting as we consider our earlier lives, but when we have reached those goals, we may, like Marlo, not recognize the gifts that are in our lives.
I think a case could easily be made that Qoheleth faced a similar ennui which led to his search for meaning that fills Ecclesiastes. Throughout that search, in all he finds along the way, he constantly returns to his “vanity of vanities” refrain, noting that wealth, religion, sensuality, and knowledge all fail to bring him satisfaction. It is the discovery of enjoying his life, as “vain” as it may be, that he finds his fulfilment. Marlo has a chance to make a similar discovery through her interactions with Tully.
Photos courtesy of Focus Features