This Is a Movie Review: Does Motherhood Gradually Get Better for Everyone? I Don’t Know, But Let’s Watch ‘Tully’ in the Meantime

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CREDIT: Focus Features

This review was originally posted on News Cult in May 2018.

Starring: Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Ron Livingston, Mark Duplass

Director: Jason Reitman

Running Time: 96 Minutes

Rating: R for PG-13-level Profanity, a Wish-Fulfilling Sex Scene, and Some Nudity (Mostly Breastfeeding-Related)

Release Date: May 4, 2018

“How could anyone possibly want to be a mother?” I find myself thinking multiple times while watching Tully. Sure, kids can be bundle of joys for folks who are parentally inclined, but the purgatory of pregnancy and postpartum malaise that Charlize Theron steeps herself in conveys unequivocally the crushing sacrifices required to assemble a happy family. Now, not every mother or mother-to-be is as susceptible to depression as Theron’s Marlo is, but creating another life inside your body pretty much guarantees a transformation of your sense of personhood. So what a blessing it would be to have someone devoted to helping with that transition, and I think we can all agree that a smiling, eager Mackenzie Davis on our doorstep fits the requirements perfectly.

Davis’ titular nanny, hired to take care of Marlo’s new baby overnight so that Mom can get some much-needed sleep, shares a lot of DNA with Manic Pixie Dream Girls, that oft-bemoaned breed of rom-com stock character designed for the express purpose of making the lead character discover the joy of loving life. But the Manic Pixie Night Nanny, or at least this particular one, avoids being similarly frustrating, because taking care of all of Marlo’s needs is kind of in her job description. She comes across as a real, layered person because some people really are that expertly enthusiastic about childcare, and she is granted a life and concerns of her own outside her employment. But as Tully proves to be the most perfect nanny ever and starts to become a friend and confidante, the questions arise: just how is it possible that she is this perfect? How long can, and should, this arrangement last?

In her third collaboration with director Jason Reitman, screenwriter Diablo Cody takes plenty of piercing (but loving?) digs at the sort of suburban bougie lifestyle that accompanies the concept of a night nanny. According to Marlo’s brother Craig (Mark Duplass, so often playing the embodiment of bougie entitlement), this may be the sort of indulgence only rich assholes get to have, but at least these particular rich assholes are of the unwittingly hilarious kind. The New York crowd at my screening cracked up heartily at a dog named “Prosecco” and the reveal that an elementary school kid’s talent show talent is “Pilates.” (Distressingly, though, I was the only one laughing at a sneaky reference to a certain ’90s cartoon.)

I feel that I must now get into a spoiler alert, which I want to be careful about, because the fact that there is a spoiler alert is already a bit of a spoiler, as this is not the type of movie you would expect to have secrets that need protecting. But because of the nature of what is spoilable, it feels irresponsible not to mention that it could be traumatic to mothers who have experienced pregnancy-related mental health issues. Tully ultimately reveals itself to be a different movie than it initially appears to be – not worse, but a lot heavier. It is something I cannot get out of my head, and I think that is a good thing, as it offers an approach to certain facts of life that is well worth digesting.

Tully is Recommended If You Like: Bougie Suburban Satire (like that of Beatriz at Dinner), Young Adult, The Babadook

Grade: 4 out of 5 Milk Spills

This is a Movie Review: With ‘Lucky,’ Harry Dean Stanton Left Us One Final Great Performance

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CREDIT: Magnolia Pictures

This review was originally posted on News Cult in September 2017.

Starring: Harry Dean Stanton, David Lynch, Ron Livingston, Tom Skerritt, Beth Grant, James Darren, Ed Begley Jr.

Director: John Carroll Lynch

Running Time: 88 Minutes

Rating: Unrated, But Keep an Eye Out for Old Farts Who Don’t Hold Their Tongues and Occasionally Get High

Release Date: September 29, 2017 (Limited)

Not many actors – nay, not many people, period – get to a point in their lives and careers that Harry Dean Stanton got to. He was still performing as he reached his 90s, thereby allowing him to quite naturally play a role that served as a meditation on preparing for death. And while he appeared relatively healthy for a man nearing the century mark (he was healthy enough to work, after all), there is always the chance that a death from natural causes could come calling at any point. Thus, Stanton has left us with the parting gift of Lucky, released only two weeks after his passing at the age of 91.

The directorial debut of prolific character actor John Carroll Lynch (Fargo, Zodiac, Shutter Island, Drew Carey’s brother on The Drew Carey Show), Lucky screams, “Made By and For Harry Dean Stanton Fanboys.” The whole film is basically an excuse for the iconic rail-thin character actor to stomp around and insist that life should be exactly as he demands it should be. As the titular coot, he is a 90-year-old atheist living in a quiet desert town, making him the ideal embodiment for irritable libertarianism. He is the kind of guy who gets banned for life from one bar and then spends all his time in the town’s other bar insulting all his friends. But everyone still loves him, probably because it is impossible for Stanton not to give a deeply humanistic performance.

As a species, we are still reckoning with how to live to an age when our biological functions are partially or completely shutting down. Lucky’s (the film) answer is mostly that the best we can do is make arrangements for death so that our left behind loved ones will not have to deal with the stresses of funereal and actuarial bureaucracy. Lucky (the person) is open to this sort of Zen practicality, but as someone who does not have any close family or friends, his perspective is a little more prickly and a little more ambivalent. Ultimately, the answer is that we really don’t know with absolute certainty how to live and how to die, but we do what we can. And if that includes hearing Lucky’s friend Howard (an always delightful on-camera David Lynch) wax poetic about his pet tortoise President Roosevelt, then it will have all been a little bit worth it.

Lucky is Recommended If You Like: Harry Dean Stanton’s career, David Lynch’s acting career, Gran Torino

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Lollipops Up the Ass