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With: Glenn Fitzgerald, Anson Mount, Bob Burrus, Julianne Nicholson, Catherine Kellner, Laura Walker, Tim Driscoll, Kristopher King, Delaney Driscoll, John Diehl
Written by: Hilary Birmingham, Matt Drake, based on a story by Tom McNeal
Directed by: Hilary Birmingham
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexual content
Running Time: 102
Date: 04/14/2000

Tully (2000)

2 Stars (out of 4)

In Need of Farm Aid

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

After premiering over two years ago at Toronto, Tully opens today in Bay Area theaters.

In the new film, a selfish and beautiful woman not only deserts her husband with their son, but also leaves him with another son from a marriage to another man. The noble husband has an accident with a piece of farm equipment, and a girl's favorite grandfather gets hauled away to the old folks' home despite tears of protest from the girl.

This sounds like a pretty good movie, but hold on a second. None of these events actually happens onscreen in Tully.

In fact, just about everything significant happens offscreen. The whole movie consists of talk; characters talking about what used to happen, what's going to happen, and what happened while you were looking the other way and watching people talk.

Based on a story by Tom McNeal, Tully takes place in a Nebraska farming community. Two young men, Tully (Anson Mount, of Crossroads) and Earl (Glenn Fitzgerald) live and work with their father, Tully Sr. (Bob Burrus) on the family farm.

Near the film's beginning, the adorably freckled Ella (Julianne Nicholson, TV's "Presidio Med") stops by for a visit. Ella has studied to be a vet and has landed an internship at the local animal hospital and it's her job to deliver horse medicine. But after that first visit she never seems to go back to work. She's always hanging out at Tully's farm.

According to the film, farm work is a breeze and takes very little work at all. Like Ella, the rest of the characters always seem to have plenty of time to lie around on the porch, go for a swim, drink a beer and have long chats.

Writer/director Hilary Birmingham, making her feature debut, sets up every scene as if the characters were actually doing something. One character busies him or herself with some menial job -- basically something to keep the actor's hands busy -- another character enters the scene, and they talk. Virtually every scene plays this way.

Most of the talk consists of "when I was a kid" and "so-and-so used to do this" and "tell me about so-and-so." The most engaging character by far is Tully and Earl's mother, who we never see. Or hear.

The dialogue isn't really bad, but it sounds like movie dialogue -- more written than spoken. The movie never captures the idea that these are real people who really live in the middle of nowhere and work on a farm. Where are the moments of pure quiet, or moments in which the talk means something, or means absolutely nothing? Couldn't someone have simply told a joke or ordered some extra ketchup or something? Or maybe they could just keep quiet for a minute.

Birmingham can't seem to handle the slow pacing of the film, either. She wants Tully to take place in a land with lots of time, but characters nervously try to fill that time while trying to look like they're doing nothing. In one scene, Tully picks up Ella while "doing farm errands" and they stop for a swim. Apparently, the errands aren't so important that they can't wait for a few hours (wouldn't the farm animals get hungry?).

Most movies are afraid of showing characters at work, but they don't realize that work can be the most telling part of a character. A person's daily routine may seem boring but it actually reveals volumes.

What's really frustrating about Tully -- and ultimately very frustrating about most movies -- is that need to please everyone, the fear of straying too far to one side. The film thuds right in the middle, somewhere between slow and fast, between something and nothing.

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