To dig too deeply into a discussion of Tully, the third film from screenwriter Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman (after Juno and Young Adult) is to risk taking the shine off the movie’s unique brand of intimate magic. Knowing this makes talking about some of the film’s most impressive and heart-breaking reveals all the more difficult, but it makes repeat viewings of Tully something quite special. The film stars Charlize Theron (following up her work with Reitman in Young Adult) as Marlo, a wife (to Ron Livingston) and mother of three, including a newborn. Being the primary parent in the household has not only drained Marlo of energy and deprived her of sleep, but also she has lost sight of the parts of herself that were special and interesting, as her days are taken over with routine.

Enter Tully (Mackenzie Davis, whose vibrancy practically jumps off the screen), a night nanny, hired by Margo’s well-off brother (Mark Duplass) to take responsibility of the infant while Margo gets a full night’s sleep. But Tully sees her job as not only taking care of the baby but taking care of Marlo’s needs as a human being, and the two form an instant bond as they discuss their lives. Marlo sees a lot of herself in Tully, and Tully views Margo’s life of stability — albeit a little boring — as something to aspire to and not avoid.

After tackling the teenage years in Juno and young, single grown=ups in Young Adult, Reitman and Cody are watching their characters age and mature as they do, and he hopes and expects they will continue to do so well into the future. Reitman (who has also directed Thank You For Smoking, Up in the Air and Labor Day) finds surprising ways to make Tully an honest treatise on the pros and con of getting older and makes it funny, tragic, joyous, scary and decidedly unpredictable.

This interview with Reitman took place in Chicago recently, and /Film spoke to him about the perils of parenthood, marriage and forgetting the hopes and dreams of your younger self.


The last time I saw you was a couple years ago in Montreal during the Just for Laughs festival, and I finally got to see one of your staged script readings [which normally take place in Los Angeles and occasionally Toronto].

Jason: Oh my god, did you see The Big Lebowski [with a cast that included Michael Fassbender as The Dude, as well as Jennifer Lawrence, Patton Oswalt, Dennis Quaid, Martin Starr, Olivia Munn, Mike Judge, Mae Whitman, and T.J. Miller]? How insane was that night? The calls that came in to come to that one…the Prime Minister called because he wanted to get his family in; Arcade Fire texted me; it was insane. That was one of the great nights of my life. Fassbender—smoking pot on stage! He knows the movie so well that he knows every time The Dude smokes, and he had a joint ready, and every time The Dude smoked, he smoked.

I just love that he come out in costume—the robe and boxer shorts.

Jason: He went for it.

I’m guessing at this point, you have the right of first refusal for anything Diablo Cody writes—maybe not legally, but you’ve just made it clear.

Jason: Oh no, it’s legal, until the day we die [laughs]. Look, we’re on the journey together, and I couldn’t have explained it or described it 10 years ago, but not it really does feel like we’re writing this diary together.

People are referring to these three films as a trilogy, but if it keeps going, that’s not a trilogy.

Jason: According to Star Wars rules, a trilogy does not preclude additional films, right? I don’t see it as a trilogy, but I do see that there is connective tissue among the films. They are all part of the same cinematic universe—I guess that’s the common terms for them today—and I presume there will be more.

What was it about this particular story that hooked you the first time you read it?

Jason: She called me and described the story in two sentences, and I was immediately taken by it. Frankly, the incredible part is that six weeks later, I got the script. She writes so fast.

Oh, it wasn’t written when she first talked to you?

Jason: No, she just said, “Here’s an idea.” I said, “Go write that,” and six weeks later, there’s the script.

When we first met, I asked you about the wonderful use of Sharon Jones’ rendition of “This Land Is Your Land” at the beginning of Up in the Air, and when she died, that’s the first thing I thought of—how well you featured her music. And you are still nailing it with the musical choices and placement in Tully.

Jason: What a sweet thing to say. Thank you, seriously.

The use of the Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual during a driving outing is so damn funny. It goes on way too long, and that’s the point [both laugh].

Jason: That’s right. The point is, how do you illustrate that it took an hour for them to drive into the city? You listen to an album from start to finish. Everyone knows that album.

I’m not even sure that’s true, but people of a certain age will get it and find it very funny. Also, the Jayhawks [whose song “Blue” is featured in the film] is one of my favorite bands. I had even missed the first time I saw it that you use the song twice in the film.

Jason: That’s awesome.

I’m assuming night nannies are a real thing.

Jason: It’s a real thing coastal rich thing.

I think that part of Margo’s initial struggle in accepting the gift is not wanting to feel like some snooty, rich parent that has no interest in taking care of their own kids.

Jason: If I can rephrase that, I think that part of being a parent is everyone telling you how you should be doing things better. There’s all this shame that comes along with being a parent, that somehow you’re letting your child down and not doing enough, whether it’s “You should be diagnosing your child with this. In the middle of the night, you’re not doing this thing or feeding your child this thing?” Whether or not to take this nanny as a gift falls into that category—all the ways we judge ourselves for not doing a good enough job. There’s the criticism we feel from the outside, but that’s no match for the criticism we feel from the inside.

Usually when we see a marriage in a film, it’s either still in the honeymoon phase or it’s falling apart. We very rarely get a look at a marriage that feels functional and lived in. How did you, Charlize and Ron establish that feel for this couple?

Jason: The first steps are in the script, which has rich detail. Even the little thing of him playing videogames in bed. I haven’t seen that yet, and that’s a true thing: there’s a generation of dudes who grew up on the original NES. And the fact that they get into bed together, and he’s got his game and she’s got her iPad, that alone speaks so much. It’s also about having actors who trust each other, and me trusting them, they trust in me, establishing a level of comfort on set. “Alright, we’re going to play this real and honest, and no one has to go big.” That was certainly the target—a quiet marriage.

That’s how relationship go. You get to the point where not everyone wants to say anything that’s going to rock the boat. You’re not fighting; you’re just avoiding anything that could get tricky. Along with that, intimacy slows down, physical contact slows down, you just start to fulfill the jobs you have in the house. Tully arrives to remind Marlo that, it’s okay, she’s doing alright. That’s one of the many categories that we’re trying to establish in the film.

I love that Tully says at one point that “boring” and “normal” is a good place to be.

Jason: We aspire to create safety for our kids, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But along with that comes living a pretty sedate life, certainly one we didn’t imagine living when we were in our early 20s.

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