I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
I have no children. I am not a mother. I am perfectly happy with this decision. So when I tell you that Tully moved me profoundly — to laughter and to tears — it has nothing to do with any firsthand experience in that arena, or with any regrets for not having had that experience. I tell you this because Tully isn’t about motherhood in the 21st century. It’s about womanhood in the 21st century.
Of course Tully is about motherhood. I don’t mean to diminish the incredibly important bravery of this movie in that aspect in any way. We only rarely see movies that deal with the difficult, complicated realities of motherhood — with the physical, emotional, and psychological impact that it has on women’s bodies and minds — and we have never seen a movie about motherhood like this one. An alien who looked at Earth’s pop culture as a way to determine what reproduction and parenthood is about for the female half of the human race would come to the conclusion that women glow when pregnant, recover from childbirth instantly, and are happily self-abnegating saints before their children and who never have doubts, frustrations, or second thoughts about motherhood. Hell, our culture has invented the myth of a “maternal instinct” in order to deny acknowledging that motherhood can be a bitch and that women are not automatically fulfilled by having and raising babies.
But Tully? When someone tells the hugely, uncomfortably pregnant Marlo (Charlize Theron: Gringo, The Fate of the Furious) that she’s glowing, it lands with all the sincerity of a sappy greeting card. This is a movie that rolls its eyes and barks out snark in the face of all the clichés about motherhood.
Many films in which characters are pregnant look exactly like what has been done to achieve this effect: an extremely thin actress has been fitted with a fake baby belly, which does not offer an accurate depiction of what happens to a woman’s body when she’s pregnant. (Her face gets fuller, for one. This is tougher to fake onscreen.) For Tully, Theron gained 50 pounds: she looks pregnant — the baby, Marlo’s third, is born shortly into the film — and then she looks like a woman who has just given birth and is too exhausted, mentally and physically, what with a newborn and two grade-schoolers to take care of, to do a damn thing about “getting into shape.” Even more realistically, Theron embodies, in a beautifully worn-out way, Marlo’s utter personal devastation. There’s an extraordinary sequence, just after the birth, a montage of night after night of sleep deprivation and of her entire existence, just about, given over to the insistent and never-ending demands of the squalling infant. (The baby’s bawling cuts right through you. We don’t think of a movie like Tully, a small domestic dramedy, as being one in which sound design stands out. But that newborn’s crying is as aurally violent as anything you’ll hear in a disaster flick or an action movie.) This is not a movie about the miracle of life and all that shit — the movie again rolls its eyes when someone coos that the new baby is “such a blessing.”
It’s after a while of this that Marlo reluctantly accepts the offer of her wealthy brother (Mark Duplass: The Lazarus Effect, Tammy): as a baby present, he’ll pay for a “night nanny,” who will come in and babysit overnight, so Marlo can sleep, with only brief wakeups for nursing. (Tully is also brutally realistic about breastfeeding. It can be a nasty, messy, painful endeavor for new mothers.) Enter Tully (Mackenzie Davis: Blade Runner 2049, The Martian). She’s young, eager, vastly knowledgeable about many things, and vastly empathetic of Marlo’s predicament.
And this is where Tully becomes all about the condition of women today, and an even more extraordinary cinematic depiction of womanhood… or at least of the big slice of womanhood that is overachieving, fiercely independent — which is true of Marlo even though she is married, to Drew (Ron Livingston: The 5th Wave, Vacation) — and proud of her own smarts and abilities. Screenwriter Diablo Cody’s (Ricki and the Flash, Jennifer’s Body) brilliantly wise and funny script recognizes how difficult it can be for women like Marlo to accept help… to even admit that she needs help. It’s tough for women like Marlo to even be kind to themselves. To ourselves. We know we’re supposed to be able to cope, to Have It All and Do It All, and it becomes a failure of modern womanhood to admit that we can’t. Not a failure of the world to admit that our ideas about womanhood are fucked up. A personal failure: we have failed to be the superwomen we’ve convinced ourselves we are supposed to be.
I can’t imagine that there are many women — mothers or not — who will see Tully and not be intensely moved by Marlo’s wonderment at moments of kindness, compassion, and help that come out of nowhere, that are unexpected. (And not just from Tully, either.) Of course they’re unexpected! So much of the work we do — particularly as mothers and homemakers — is completely invisible, and hence usually completely unrecognized. Tully’s sting with regard to that invisibility is a sharp one.
Director Jason Reitman (Men, Women & Children, Labor Day) — teaming up with Cody and Theron again after 2011’s Young Adult — is deeply, intimately sympathetic to Marlo in a way that I have never seen onscreen before when it comes to a female protagonist. But the film is also deeply critical and fully enraged at all the unseen burdens that women place upon ourselves, even as it suggests that we are merely getting a jump on those burdens getting loaded on us by the world. Instead of getting angry at how we are never good enough and perfect enough in the eyes of others, we place impossibly high standards and expectations on ourselves. Tully takes the term “self-care” and tosses it away as another one of those impossible expectations, and tells us it’s okay to accept help. Which is a very radical thing to say to trying-to-be superwomen.
OMFG the concept of a Night Nanny. Once I heard there was such an animal I DESPERATELY DESPERATELY wanted one after my second child was born. I had to have a c-section, I already had a toddler, and 3 1/2 months after my second kid, my husband was deployed to Iraq (2003).
I was stuck in the Virginia ‘burbs where we had moved to from NYC (where all my family and friends were), and now my husband has left for almost 2 years to be in a war zone and I was left alone with a 2.5 yr old and an infant.
I had heard from my well-to-do friends about the Night Nanny thing, and while totally out of our budget, I swear I fantasized about that almost as much as I employed magical thinking to get my husband home to us.
My kids are teenagers now, which presents a whole host of other issues to deal with. But there is something incredibly immediate, terrifying, annoying and exhausting when it comes to newborns and little kids. It’s intense and all-consuming – and it’s mostly women who bear the burden.
“recognizes how difficult it can be for women like Marlo to accept help… to even admit that she needs help.”
Part of the problem is that if a woman hires a maid or a nanny, she’ll be told she’s cruelly exploiting other women for the sake of her own selfish career. Of course, thanks to sexism, nobody says, “The husband is cruelly exploiting the maid and nanny for his own selfish career. If he only quit his job, or even cut back enough to do his fair share of housework and childcare, him and his wife wouldn’t need to hire a maid or nanny.” Nope, it’s all on the mommy to do it herself, because hiring help is cruel exploitation and men don’t do anywhere near their fair share.
And of course we don’t have a good childcare system, and even if we did again it would be “Heartless mommy, abandoning her kid to daycare!” Never “Heartless Daddy, why doesn’t he quit his job to take care of his own kid instead of sticking the kid in daycare?”
Oh, and how is it that a standard full-time working week is 40 hours, while spending upwards of a hundred hours a week with your kids makes you a part-time mother?
And now, we find out if this is another Suffragette: a brilliant well-reviewed movie
by and for women that women avoid going to see in the theater in vast numbers.
It’s not “for women,” it’s about a woman but FOR everyone, the same way that movies by and about men are always considered “for everyone,” not just men.
And there are plenty of critically acclaimed movies made by men that nevertheless don’t draw in big audiences.
Part of the problem — a *BIG* part of the problem — with getting movies made about women, which is what MaryAnn has been saying she’s desperate for for something like a decade now is that when a brilliantly-written, brilliantly-produced movie about women is made and gets very strong reviews, women don’t go and see it.
The marketing plays a big role. Recent well-done, well-reviewed stories about women (examples: “Suffragette”, “Brooklyn”, “Carol”, “Truth”) that focused on female-targeted marketing crashed at the box office. And despite what you say, there is no part of “Tully”‘s marketing that isn’t targeted at a female audience.
So once again, we have a brilliant story about women in the theater. We will see if women will actually GO SEE IT.
(Counter-example: “Hidden Figures” marketing was targeted at both sexes and did MUCH better.)
Suffragette grossed $30 million, against a $14 million budget. Brooklyn grossed $62.1 million, against a budget of $11 million. Carol grossed $40.3 million, against a budget of $11.8 million. These films turned a good profit and did not “crash.” Not everything has to make Avengers money, or even Hidden Figures money.
And if a woman-centered film does flop, why do you blame only female filmgoers? Why not also blame male filmgoers, for not being interested in movies about women?
Can you be more specific? How is Tully’s marketing aimed only at women? How is Hidden Figures’ marketing aimed at both sexes? If Tully’s marketing isn’t appealing to men, isn’t that also a problem with the MEN for lacking sufficient breadth of interest, imagination, and empathy?
The fact is that critically acclaimed films, whether about men or women, sometimes succeed and sometimes fail. But when the films about men are box office flops (e.g. Silence, Steve Jobs), I bet no one blames the men for not showing up to support their man-movies.
When movies about men flop, the studios don’t say “well, it’s just too difficult and risky to make movies about men, so we’ll stop making them.” They just keep on churning them out, and some are hits and some are not. There’s no reason (apart from sexism) that they can’t extend the same courtesy to the other half of the population.
A successful male-focused “dialog movie” (ie, lacking in explosions and not specifically marketed as a comedy) typically makes twice those numbers (“Sideways”, “Up In the Air”, “The Descendants”). When successful comedy male-focused movies are included, the numbers double again (“Wild Hogs”, “Neighbors”, “Grown Ups”).
Now I’m not saying a movie that makes a profit is tagged as a failure, certainly not. But if you’re a producer and what you have in front of you to finance is either a “Tully” or a “Neighbors”, which one are you gonna choose? Be honest. If you’re a filmmaker and you can’t turn $20 million into $80 million domestic, you’re just not going to get the opportunities of those who can… and a movie like this is not gonna get anywhere *close* to those numbers unless women go and see it in equal numbers to the men who go to see a “Neighbors”… or at least a “Sideways”.
And by the way, this is not a male/female statement. *Plenty* of male filmmakers have slammed into the same wall. You could write a whole book about Kevin Smith (for example) slamming repeatedly into that wall.
With regard to “Tully”‘s marketing, the trailers are interesting (and depressing) reversals of the typical male movie: the men shown are sarcastic, not helpful, antagonistic, or all three (“Frozen pizza! Awesome!”). Hell, not to go completely cliche, but between trailer #1 and trailer #2, the color in-text on the trailer was switched from cream to soft pink. That doesn’t happen by accident. And the scenes shown are nearly perfectly custom-designed to turn men off: again, not to be cliche, but there are very few men who want to see Charlize Theron hooked to a breast pump. The major press interviews? They’re on NPR and Elle… not exactly male-consumed fare. I guess I don’t need to talk about the posters. I love Charlize Theron as an actress; I’ve seen virtually every one of her movies, and I’ll likely see this one as well. But not in the theater.
Oh, and I forgot how the “Hidden Figures” marketing was different and better: it did a terrific job of screaming “space!” and “rockets!” and “right stuff!” to draw men in, even though those elements were a very tiny part of the actual film.
P.S. Do I have to mention Tully’s numbers? I guess I don’t. But I’m going to anyway. I repeat my initial premise: if women won’t leave their homes to go see brilliantly-written, brilliantly-acted, well-reviewed stories about women, then you’re simply not going to get brilliantly-written, brilliantly-acted, well-reviewed stories about women.
It was also excellent marketing that drew in all the WOMEN who love space and rockets, who devour science fiction, who flocked to all the Star Wars and Star Trek films when they were growing up, who fought hard to be part of NASA’s astronaut program, and on and on.
SPACE IS NOT JUST A GUY THING, and never has been. If you think the marketing was aimed just at men, that’s more telling of YOUR assumptions than of which audiences the marketing actually appealed to.
Again: Plenty of well-reviewed stories about men also fail at the box office. This has never stopped and will never stop studios from making more well-written and well-acted films about men. They will never say, “Since Silence and Steve Jobs bombed, it means no one wants to see stories about men anymore.” And the reason they can do this is because there are TONS of movies about men, and a lot of them are hits that can counteract the flops.
There is NO reason they can’t have this same attitude towards female-led films. No reason except one.
I’m male. I saw Suffragette, Brooklyn, and Carol in theatres. I also went to see Juno, Young Adult and Jennifer’s Body. I went out of my way not to see Wild Hogs, Neighbors, or Grown Ups. But I’m sure you’ll find a way to spin that so it demonstrates your point, or claim that I’m the exception that proves the rule. And maybe I am: This response is often sarcastic and definitely antagonistic.
And what are the audience demographics for those movies? You seem to think only men saw those movies, but it’s highly likely that the audience was a good mix of men and women. So women have proven, over and over again, that they have the imagination and empathy to enjoy stories about men. If men aren’t interested in stories about women, what does that say about THEIR imaginations?
You’re also cherry-picking the SUCCESSFUL male-centered movies. Plenty of male dramas and comedies have bombed: Silence and Steve Jobs as I mentioned, plus Live by Night, Patriot’s Day, CHiPs, The Snowman, and Only the Brave (and those are just from last year, not including male action sci-fi/fantasy flops like King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, The Dark Tower, and Blade Runner 2049). And you’re choosing to ignore all the female-centered dramas and comedies that have been SUCCESSFUL compared to budget: Lady Bird, Winter’s Bone, Wild, Girls Trip, Trainwreck, Bridesmaids, Mean Girls, Clueless, Pitch Perfect, and on and on (not including the huge box office of the female-led action/sci-fi/Disney films like Frozen, Hunger Games, Gravity, Wonder Woman, etc). So, again, films about women can succeed or fail, just as films about men can succeed or fail. If you’re not going to blame men for not showing up for Steve Jobs, don’t blame women for not showing up to Tully.
Why don’t you ask the producers of Tully why they chose to produce Tully?
But if I were a money-hungry producer, I’d look at all the studies showing that female-led films are generally more profitable (like this and this for starters) and seriously consider putting a lot more women in my movies.
And yet men get these opportunities all the time. Gareth Edwards’ Monsters cost $500,000 but made only $237,000 domestically; he went on to direct Godzilla and Rogue One. Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ The Kings of Summer cost $1.5 million; made only $1.4 million. He was given Kong: Skull Island. Joseph Kosinski was a commercial director whose FIRST FEATURE FILM EVER was Tron: Legacy. So sure, maybe your debut film struggles and even loses money, but having a dick sure helps negotiate getting those bigger films.
You have a pretty low opinion of men. And if you’re correct, then that’s a pretty sad state of affairs, isn’t it? Do you really want to argue that men only want to see fuckable bodies and aren’t interested in seeing women as people?
Men don’t listen to NPR? That’s news to me. Maybe I should check to see if my penis fell off when I woke up to Morning Edition.
Then doesn’t that make you part of the problem?
You’re orbiting my main point so fast that it’s surprising you haven’t gone backward in time.
If a movie of a given type is successful, money appears to make more movies of that type. If stories about women are not successful in the theater, then more stories about women will not be made, certainly not at the rate that MJ and others here want them.
And MY point is that the failure of SOME female-led films is often used by the industry as an excuse not to make more, even when the failure of SOME male-led films never stops them from making more. It’s the excuse you’re using right now, attempting to blame women for the failure of Tully and using that as the reason they won’t see more films of that kind.
You’re also conveniently ignoring the fact that female-driven films IN GENERAL are more profitable than male-driven ones. And yet the sexism of the industry prevents them from doing the logical thing, which is giving more support to female filmmakers and churning out a lot more female-led movies.
Basically, the reason there aren’t more female-driven films isn’t that “women didn’t go to see Tully.” That’s a simplistic conclusion based on a lot of assumptions that are actually part of the problem.
I’m sorry if my points are orbiting around you too fast for you to understand them.
I realized overnight I was being a bit unfair, so I’ll try answering your questions, though I still think you’re missing my point.
1) “Why was this movie produced?” Because Charlize Theron brought in her own money to have it made. BRON Studios was also engaged with it. Most of their movies are trash but they have a history of gambling on smaller movies with big stars hoping for a big payday. They haven’t gotten it yet.
2) “Aren’t you part of the problem?” No. With my money, I support the types of movies that I want to see made. In my case, that’s speculative science fiction. For other types of media, I make the same choices you do: sometimes I see it in the theater, sometimes I wait for Netflix or a paid channel, sometimes I don’t see it at all.
3) “If you’re a fan of Charlize Theron…” I am, but sometimes her movies are complete trash (“The Last Face” is a recent example). She nearly always brings something interesting to her performances and I like to watch them, but I’ve only seen about a third of her movies in the theater. See (2).
4) “Space is not just a guy thing.” I agree, but you missed my point. Some things “score higher” with the average man, some things score higher with the average woman. That’s just reality. It’s like those CNN political debate graphs where they show male and female reactions to what the candidate is saying. *On average*, space may score high with women, sure, but it scores higher with men. Invoking the visuals of “The Right Stuff” (and the “Hidden Figures” trailer does) is also a smart move to draw in men… again, that movie scored higher with men than women.
5) “You’re cherry-picking!” Yes, of course I am. I said so right when I said in my previous post that successful movies get replicated. If Tully is successful, it will be replicated. If stories about women are successful, they will be replicated. If women go see stories about women, they will be replicated. This is a logical chain. And the reverse is also true.
6) “Female-driven movies have better ROI.” That was a good study, but kind of beside the point of our discussion. It didn’t look at *movies about women*. Several of the biggest performers during the period they chose were “Zero Dark Thirty”, “Fifty Shades of Grey”, three Twilight movies, “Alice in Wonderland”, a Sherlock Holmes movie… all directed or written or both by women. I guess the Twilight movies and “Fifty Shades of Grey” are about a woman but are these the “movies about women” you want leading your ROI charge?
(Side note: one of the movies included in that period is “Inside Out” which was hugely profitable, brilliant, and co-written by a woman, Meg LeFauve. Keep your eye on her. She deliberately left Jodie Foster’s production company to do more big ticket writing and scored two *big* writing gigs with Disney, “Captain Marvel” and “Gigantic”, both of which have female leads. She’s super-smart and might very well parley those gigs into some really good woman-centered movies. More on her in a bit.)
7) “You have a low opinion of men.” Maybe. But to make money, your marketing has to attract the average, mass market audience.
8) “Men get opportunities women don’t.” Your specifics first. Gareth Edwards got “Rogue One” because “Godzilla” made $600 million. He got “Godzilla” because he made “Monsters” on an absurdly short time frame, it showed incredible craft (testament to his long years of study) and budget-savvy, and scored huge in Asia ($4 million, so an ROI of 8:1). These are things valued by producers. Jordan Vogt-Roberts? You forgot to mention the very minor detail that his film was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. That commands attention. It lost only to
Ryan Coogler’s first film, who went on to get “Creed” and “Black Panther”. No doubt you forgot to complain about him, but again, a Sundance Grand Jury Prize or nomination *commands attention*. With regard to Tron, heavily CGI movies are weird beasts (example, “Final Fantasy: The Spirit Within” was also directed by a first-time director). Joseph Kosinski very much backed into the role of director on it. Disney didn’t even know what they wanted to do with it, were offering it to anyone who could produce a vision for the franchise, and Kosinski proved he could deliver over a long period of internal work at Disney, including a really startling trailer. Kevin Smith very nearly backed into writing a Superman movie through a similar mechanic.
These opportunities are not exclusive to men. Female film-makers have not taken Sundance as seriously as the men (which is a whole other problem unto itself). That said, Meg LeFauve is following a similar path to Kosinski, turning zero experience into a writing credit for “Inside Out”.
9) “Audience demos!” Yes, these are very important. But once again, if you’re going to make a story about women, you have to do something to draw the men in, in exactly the same way that male film-makers (for the most part) try to draw women in. Go back to the “Tully” trailers. If a trailer treated women the way the “Tully” trailers treat men, MAJ would be (rightly) dumping all over it. Why is showing women in a poor light bad, but showing men in a poor light makes them bad people for not wanting to spend $10 on a movie that doesn’t seem to like men? Again, you have to drive mass market appeal. “Tully”‘s first weekend numbers prove this point rather convincingly, no matter what its demos were.
Oh, I forgot to mention Nicole Perlman, who turned a Tribeca prize into writing credits for Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy with no other experience. She’s a good but rare example of a woman who takes the festival circuit seriously.
Your longer comment is under moderation for some reason, and can’t be replied to yet, so I’ll reply to this one.
Aah, so not ALL producers are just looking for the next Neighbors, as you earlier claimed. And regardless of the quality of other BRON movies, critics seem to agree this one ISN’T “trash,” so I wonder why you even brought it up.
You yourself admitted that Tully looked like a brilliantly directed, brilliantly written, brilliantly acted movie, starring an actress you love, whose work you always try to see. So by your logic this is NOT the type of film you want to see made? If you acknowledge a movie’s quality but then DON’T support it, and ALSO try to shame other moviegoers for not supporting it, then you ARE part of the problem.
Citations, please. And none of this disproves my point that women seem to be able to enjoy more things than men. They can enjoy stories about space AND motherhood, while men, apparently, by your arguments, can’t. So, if you’re going to engage in audience-blaming at all, then the failure of motherhood-themed movies like Tully should be blamed on the MEN.
And the comparisons between Hidden Figures’ and Tully’s marketing are really irrelevant. HF could employ space visuals because it was A STORY ABOUT SPACE. Tully isn’t.
That’s the desired outcome, yes. But you keep ignoring the systemic sexism in the industry that keeps preventing this outcome from happening, or at least happening at the rate that it should.
You then proceed to explain why it was Entirely Reasonable that the male directors I mentioned got their opportunities. But it is still blatantly plain that all these directors ARE MEN, benefitting from a network of men and older established male mentors. “Incredible craft… testament to long years of study” and being “budget-savvy” are not exclusive to male directors, but those are the ones who keep getting rewarded. Grand Jury Prizes at Sundance — do you really believe that the prizes are given out with absolute objectivity, and that unconscious sexist bias doesn’t come into play AT ALL? It’s a vicious cycle — women do the work but aren’t recognized for it; men get recognized, and the recognition brings more work. It doesn’t necessarily mean the men’s work is undeserving; it DOES mean that a lot of deserving WOMEN’S work gets ignored, and then they get blamed (as you are doing) for not stepping up to the plate.
Uh huh, sure.
Yeah, it’s the women’s fault that their films aren’t taken seriously at Sundance. Nothing to do with the bias of the juries or the distributors at all.
Great people turning out great work. But you seem to be singling them out in order to say, “See? Women can do it if they really want to. If the vast majority of women don’t, it’s their own fault. There’s nothing in the system keeping them down at all.” That’s like saying racism doesn’t exist because Obama, Oprah, and Beyonce are successful black figures. The film industry gives tons of opportunities to mediocre men (e.g. Kosinski’s Tron: Legacy was a critical and commercial disappointment); the success of a few EXCEPTIONAL women doesn’t mean the system is now fair. It just means women have to fight harder to be heard.
(And LeFauve and Perlman would likely be much further along in their careers now if they were men. Perlman has talked about her challenges with sexist gatekeepers in the industry before working for Marvel. How many other women have those gatekeepers shut out?)
1. There’s nothing in the story of a woman struggling with motherhood that should be anathema to men.
2. I doubt that many male filmmakers consciously shape their stories with “I have to include something for the ladies” in mind. They simply tell the stories they want to tell, and trust that the stories will appeal to everyone. But when female filmmakers try to simply tell stories they want to tell, they get pigeonholed as “niche” or “special interest.” Again, it’s a failure of the male imagination.
I’ve just rewatched those trailers, and there’s NOTHING in them that indicates a hatred for men. It shows a woman struggling with the challenges of motherhood, and a husband who perhaps doesn’t fully understand what she’s going through but is by no means an Evil Man caricature. Do you need the husband to be a compassionate Mister Rogers before you’re satisfied? They both seem to be honest and realistic portrayals of flawed human beings muddling through a marriage and parenthood. If that’s showing men in a “poor light” and evidence the movie “doesn’t seem to like men,” again that’s more telling of your own attitude than of what the trailers actually show.
People in Hollywood are always citing rules, and they always have figures to back them up: “Action films with female leads never make money.” “Movies about black people do really badly in the international market.” And if someone says, “How do you know? No one’s tried making those kinds of movies in years and years,” somebody will point to a bad movie about a super-heroine that tanked 15 years ago and say, “You see?”
So when The Hunger Games or Wonder Woman or Black Panther becomes an enormous hit, everybody is utterly shocked (except for those of us who’ve been clamoring for those films since childhood), and the entertainment journalists write articles about this surprising new development, and explain why it may never happen again.
I saw this in the theater and loved it. Thank you for this review, which is what drove me to theater to see it in the first place.