Movie reviews: 'Tully' twists stereotypes for unexpected success
Published Friday, May 4, 2018 6:00AM EDT
TULLY: 3 STARS
The movies have often commented on motherhood in all its iterations. From the baseball bat wielding Wendy Torrance of "The Shining" and "Sounder’s" hardscrabble Rebecca Morgan to the boozy Martha in "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and "The Manchurian Candidate’s" controlling Eleanor Iselin moms of all kinds have blessed the screens.
"Tully," new dramedy from Oscar nominated director Jason Reitman, presents an often-used stereotype, the stressed out mom, then takes the story to some unexpected places.
Charlize Theron is Marlo, a frazzled mother of three including a newborn named Mia--"They’re such a blessing," she says with an eye roll--and wife of Drew (Ron Livingston). Drew helps out around the house but the brunt of the childrearing is left to Marlo. To help bring some order to his sister’s chaotic home, Marlo’s rich brother (Mark Duplass) sends over a gift in the form of twenty-six-year old night nanny Tully (Mackenzie Davis), a Mary Poppins-esque saviour. "They are like ninjas," he says. "They sneak in and out. You barely know they’re there."
Exhausted and desperate, Marlo reluctantly agrees and instantly her life improves. Tully does the heavy lifting around the house --" I’m like Saudi Arabia," she says. "I have an energy surplus."-- minding the kids with a cheerful attitude that borders on Stepford Wifesque. "She’ll grow a little overnight," she says of the newborn. "And so will we!" At first Tully’s platitudes annoy -- "You're like a book of fun facts for unpopular fourth graders," Marlo complains -- but soon their relationship deepens as the younger woman takes on the role of an unconventional caregiver. "I’m going to help you with everything not just Mia," Tully says. "You can’t treat the parts without treating the whole."
Some of screenwriter Diablo Cody’s trademarked wit and wordplay are in evidence but the movie is more concerned with the characters interplay to worry about imbuing every line with a zinger. Instead it’s a gently humorous movie about the power of kindness, of positivity, of bonding and, conversely the importance of self-reliance. Unfortunately the climax undoes much of the goodwill generated by the first two acts. Enough said. No spoilers here!
With that in mind, it must be said that Theron has rarely been better. As a woman on the verge of a breakdown she is equal parts frailty and emotional honesty. If the bags under her eyes and the world-weary look on her face don’t convince you of the weight she feels then a montage featuring the late night crying that interrupts sleep, breast pumping, unruly siblings and the other ‘joys" of motherhood, will. She’s at the brink and Theron’s performance is uncomfortably realistic.
Mackenzie Davis as the "stranger who comes in to look after Mia" is pure empathy, a ball of energy that acts in stark contrast to Theron’s dog-tired Marlo. Forthright but calming she is exactly the tonic Marlo needs. "I feel like I can see colour again," says a rested Marlo after Tully’s first shift. A hipster with a serene smile, buzzwords drip from her mouth--the baby wasn’t born, for instance, she came "earthside"--like a lullaby.
Delicately directed by Reitman "Tully" doesn’t shy away from the difficulties of parenthood. It’s an unvarnished look at sore nipples and sleepless nights that entertainingly essays Marlo’s psychological state. It’s just too bad it tries to get clever in its fading moments.
BACKSTABBING FOR BEGINNERS: 2 STARS
The name "Backstabbing for Beginners" sounds like a nasty teen drama, a high school how to on how to survive in the mean hallways of twelfth grade. "Mean Girls" with an edge. Instead, it’s a political drama, the kind of thriller that relies more on the cerebral inner workings of backroom manoeuvrings than the kind of things the newspapers write about. Proving the old adage that everything is high school, however, it turns out the two milieus are not dissimilar.
Based on the memoirs of Michael Soussan, the film details the corruption within the United Nations Oil-for-Food program during the early years of the Iraq War. Theo James is Michael, a principled but naive aide to an influential U.N. undersecretary Pasha (Ben Kingsley). A greenhorn, he is soon schooled in the crafty way Pasha does business. "The first rule of diplomacy," says the older man, "is that the truth is not a matter of fact but a matter of consensus." As the United Nations Iraq War-era Oil-for-Food program goes south Michael begins to poke around into the suspicious death of his predecessor. Coming into the orbit of Nashim (Belcim Bilgin) Michael struggles with where his loyalties should lie.
"Backstabbing for Beginners" isn’t a thrill ride. Deliberately paced, it covers a lot of ground. To guide the viewer through the story’s socio-political unpredictability Danish director Per Fly layers exposition throughout, in the form of explanatory dialogue and narration. He limits the detail to the ins and outs of what turns out to be a global conspiracy, but it slows down the action, sucking away much of the tale’s inherent tension.
The conspiracy and whistleblowing does not provide the rollercoaster ride it could have been but it provides Kingsley with the opportunity to chew the scenery. It’s a plum role for the 74 year-old actor who unleashes a controlled but spirited performance as the morally compromised, foul mouthed Pasha. It’s also a pleasure to see Jacqueline Bisset as his nemesis, a stern enemy who isn’t afraid to get under the skin of the undiplomatic diplomat.
"Backstabbing for Beginners’s" story of corruption from our recent past, complete with Pasha’s self-serving doublespeak about the "the growing pains of a new democracy," is timely, if not exciting.
LOWLIFE: 3 STARS
As the title "Lowlife" would suggest, the debut film from Ryan Prows, is down ‘n dirty. A Los Angeles set b-movie that features a rage-a-holic Mexican wrestler, organ harvesting and upsetting facial tattoos, it’s audacious grindhouse fare that would make Tarantino blush.
Borrowing an over-lapping, broken timeline featured in every crime movie in the 1990s after "Pulp Fiction," "Lowlife" tires together the lives of four lives touched by ruthless crime boss Teddy "Bear" Haynes (Mark Burnham). Teddy has his fingers in all kinds of unpleasantness, including human trafficking and the sale of human organs.
Mixing-and-matching stories are luchador El Monstruo (Ricardo Adam Zarate), a hair-trigger tempered former wrestler with aspirations to be a legendary hero but pays the bills as Teddy’s henchman.
Then there’s Keith (Shaye Ogbanna) and his unfortunately tattooed friend Randy (Jon Oswald) who get talked into one of Teddy’s kidnapping schemes and motel owner Crystal, who needs a kidney for her alcoholic husband.
"Lowlife" is as seedy as its surroundings. Made with verve by Prows, it’s a bloody, dark comedy that wears its b-movie roots on its sleeve. By times unpleasant, by times politically incorrect--"Not cool calling me a Nazi," says the ex-con with a giant swastika tattooed on his face. "You don’t know my struggle" -- by times heartfelt yet derivative, the movie is a fun, violent watch.