In my eyes, the rapport of Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody proves to be one of the most eminent examples of cinematic "checks and balances." If one were to overpower the other, it could easily lead to things going awry. Jason Reitman is quite adept at adding a real heartfelt nature to his films, but at any given moment, one wrong turn or one precipitous decision could make it feel dissonant and tame. Diablo Cody has knife-edged sensibilities in relation to dialogue, but if left with too much power, it too has the potential to veer into the territory of self-impressed, contrived, annoyingly snarky, and vain hipness meant for the writer to chuckle at.
While both these individuals haven't really produced a "failure" or "miscalculation," they are both such disparate, eccentric filmmakers that you are almost waiting for the other shoe to drop. However, when together, they manage to create deliriously offbeat, yet stunningly humane films; films in which you can see the synergy and feel the sincerity. While Young Adult remains unseen by me, Juno, in my book, is the epitome of the all-encompassing vision and paradigm for a Cody/Reitman film: a quirky protagonist trying to figure out life, most often than not hiding behind Cody's acerbic, quick-witted dialogue, yet slowly exhibiting raw, unfathomable emotions.
However, with their most recent film, they've seemed to strip away, or at least understate, the gleeful quirkiness and hyper-sassy inclinations of their previous works and emphasize an emotional core more helplessly bruised than an apple used for a game of racquetball. It's bitter, it's eccentric, it's often painful, and it's a Cody/Reitman film. This time, they've introduced us to Tully.
Well, moreso Marlo, played by Charlize Theron. She's a mother of two and has recently given birth to a baby girl. However, her existence is anything but glamorous. She drudges through life disheveled and tired. She's let herself go, has no substantial emotional support from her husband, and her son has developmental issues, which cause him to be removed from school. At the suggestion of her brother, Marlo hires a night nanny, Tully, to care for the baby. Day by day, nursing session after nursing session, they form a special bond, which seems to enliven Marlo. However, how long shall this last?
Much like Marlo, this films drudges at a very quiet, muted pace, in a good way. In fact, the film doesn't particularly progress narratively, but veraciously. It doesn't exist to tell a story, but to showcase a barely living soul. Yes, we get Diablo Cody's typical brand of sharp, searing humor, but here, especially early on, any anecdote strikes coldly. Sometimes, vestiges of dark humor are sneaked in obliquely, such as Marlo and Tully having a heart-to-heart, all the while stealing bikes. This film subverts a content, fulfilling dream into a land of brutal seclusion. The characters, in the beginning, have scant emotional interactions. The aura, however, never feels one of detestation, but merely attempted adjustment. Life's a drone, but they know why they resume with the course of their lives.
It's rather refreshingly ironic that the emotional core of the film is it's weirdest character, Tully. She's a free spirit, she seems to have a very askew understanding of personal space, and hell, she encourages Marlo into having a threesome with her and Marlo's husband. She seems to almost have a quasi-homoerotic fascination with Marlo. She, along with a public school teacher from one scene, are some of the oddest characters and they're written with the most vim. This film seems to argue that unorthodox is, at the very least, exciting and relationships like these can be the most stimulating. The fact that Tully is a night nanny also introduces a special edge that works to the film's advantage. The dark, shaded, isolation of the night time makes it the most auspicious time for these ladies to fortify their bond.
However, given a succeeding plot twist (God have mercy to ANYONE who shall soil it for the unknown), it becomes apparent that Tully is more than just a name. It's a position, a service, an unorthodox, invigorating individual. Sometimes, it's found in the most unlikely of places. The way the film expresses this and brings it all home is the most crushing, devastating, yet fervently uplifting portion of the film. In true Cody/Reitman fashion, it's both life-affirming and disillusioning all at the same time.
One aspect of the film that I particularly noticed moreso than other Cody/Reitman films was the cinematography. Frequent Reitman collaborator, Eric Steelberg, has produced some of the most inciting, evocative camerawork I've ever seen. His camera seems to be as riveted and on edge as the viewers. The framing is, curiously, off-kilter at times, with some aspects of the shot not being totally in focus or only half in focus, but it manages to be the most assuredly applicable method of displaying the ennui and anguish of Marlo. All the while, is it aggressively taut and painfully observant.
Centered directly in front of that camera is the plaintive, haunting, checked-out face of Charlize Theron, delivering one of her strongest performances of her career. While she is physically presented as neglecting her body and flushing from her face and her skin spotlighting all of the particular blemishes, Theron emotionally uses very little embellishments. It's as if she has detached herself externally from any patent expressions of visceral exacerbation, but internally she is slogging through an unrelenting, unbearable battle. It's a staggeringly powerful, unadorned acting job, with her weapons of choice being a woeful, unfortunate comic timing, and an exhausted drained daze that says nothing and everything simultaneously. Her few histrionic outbursts are all parts hilarious, robust, and heartbreakingly captivating.
However, as strong as Theron is, I refused to overlook the transfixing performance of Mackenzie Davis as Tully. This role is actually a relatively tough one, because it would be so simple to be trapped in the pitfalls of the clichéd guardian/angelic helping hand who smiles, inspires, magically heals all of the problems, and leaves. What Davis does it that she never comes off as unctuous. Within two minutes of her appearance, she establishes Tully as a stoic, vibrant, entranced, and undisciplined young woman. She dons a hopeful gleam in her eyes, yet secretly radiates complexities that never seem to be fully addressed, resolved, or discussed about.
During this film, I never felt that I was watching it. I felt like I was experiencing it. I wasn't watching Theron transmogrify her body. I saw a mother who had given up trying to better herself. I saw Diablo Cody not writing dialogue, but boldly, brazenly letting out a therapeutic ululation for stressed-out mothers. I saw Jason Reitman not creating, but allowing; allowing us to laugh with, cry with, and pity this woman stuck in a beautifully hopeless part of her existence. Yes, I understand the aforementioned plot twist can be seen as quite damning, but the way I see it, it merely delivers the message that we all need a Tully. Sometimes, it just takes a moment to take a look in front or beside of you.
This isn't Diablo Cody or Jason Reitman's best film, but it's their most tragically consummate one. Throughout this film, I felt that this was the signal for the end of a chapter. Given the go-for-broke, subversive spirit and tilted humanity of Juno and Young Adult, this feels like what happens when that type of heedless immaturity and vital persistence comes to a dead end, leaving behind a battered, nakedly broken, lost soul. I can almost imagine Cody and Reitman saying to each other, "Now what?" after filming concluded. Whether you two have a few more films in you or not, I can only hope that you two can keep each other in line.
Also, Charlize, you can rough-up yourself all you want. You literally are still smoking hot, no matter how stretchy your skin is.
RATING: An enthusiastic three stars out of four