Based on an award-winning story by Tom McNeal, Tully is a guy-at-a-crossroads tale, told with a welcome lack of standard convention. The title character, played by able newcomer Anson Mount (Crossroads), is a young, good-looking fella admired by most of the women in his Nebraska farming town, and playing his quiet popularity for all it's worth. Tully works on his pappy's farm with his younger brother, Earl, but still finds time to get it on with a local stripper (Catherine Kellner) on the hood of her car (or his car, if available).
Tully plays the field, and plays it well, but he finds that some women -- his stripper friend, in particular -- want a bit more commitment. He soon forges a friendship with Ella, a lithe, freckly beauty who won't take any of Tully's crap as a womanizer. Played by the near-perfect Julianne Nicholson, Ella is the most appealing -- and, at times, most developed -- character in the film. While Birmingham certainly directs her main focus toward Tully and his father, Tully Sr. (stage actor Bob Burrus), Ella's point-of-view could have easily been the central one of the story.
With Ella being a long-time friend of Earl's (Glenn Fitzgerald), we briefly believe that the film will become a brother vs. brother love triangle, with the assured, high-cheekboned Tully becoming a threat to his gangly but lovable younger brother. Instead, Birmingham takes us on a completely different road, keeping Ella on the periphery momentarily while a cloudy past darkens the lives of Tully, Earl, and Tully Sr. With plot points not worth divulging, the future of their farm is in jeopardy and an unknown family history comes calling.
Birmingham and cinematographer John Foster do a superb job of painting a gorgeous, natural setting, evoking that feel of summer in the country with a flavor that carries a cinematic beauty without being overdone. Through the visuals and the dialogue, we get a real sense of the lazy, easygoing feel of such a place, where folks mark time with the weekly purchase of six-packs of beer.
While Tully takes a little too long to get going, Birmingham and her stars easily charm us with that gentle, subtle, wistful tone, a mood that really pays off as the plot expands and heads for unexpected territory -- Monster's Ball would have been a much finer film if it was molded more like this one. Ultimately, Tully is a quiet family drama with a little bit of romance and a dose of darkness. Think of it as a cool glass of summertime lemonade -- spiked with moonshine.
Additional note: In the press notes for Tully, filmmakers Hilary Birmingham and Annie Sundberg include an introductory letter worth mentioning. In it, they describe their long struggle to get the film distributed, saying, "We are turning to you... to look at our film with fresh eyes and a deeper perspective on the history behind our journey to the big screen."
The fact that this fine film is finally being released, two years after being sold at the Toronto Film Festival under another title (The Truth About Tully), is an admirable sign of perseverance in the unsteady indie world. But to ask viewers to examine the film differently as a result of its trials is ludicrous.
Finally, they state, "We have come through setbacks and a world forever changed by last September. But Tully is still the same award-winning film." If Birmingham and Sundberg are implying that the terrorist attacks had an indirect effect on the demise of their previous distribution sources, the comment may be true but inappropriate. And if they're just throwing in a mention of September 11 while discussing their "struggle" to distribute a film, shame on them.
The Tully DVD features The Third Date, a cute, 15-minute short film from the Tully filmmakers.
Run time: 102 mins
In Theaters: Friday 14th April 2000
Distributed by: Small Planet
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 81%
Fresh: 42 Rotten: 10
IMDB: 7.4 / 10
Director: Hilary Birmingham