Tully
When I first saw Tully at the 2000 GenArt Film Festival in New York (where it took top
honors), it was called What Happened to Tully. The movie was then purchased by a distributor
who switched the name to The Truth About Tully. The distributor went bankrupt and Sundance
Channel aired it in early 2002. Well, whatever the title, the film is an adaptation of an award-
winning short story by Tom McNeal and marks the promising debut of director Hilary Birmingham.
She and fellow scenarist Matt Drake managed to distill the essence of the original fiction into a fine
feature that unfolds at its own pace and tells of a disappearing sector of rural America -- the family
farm.

As befitting its origins, Tully is a mood piece where character takes precedence over story. The
plot is rather simple: the Coates family appears to be managing their land well. The eldest son, Tully
Coates Jr. (Anson Mount), has a reputation as a local heartbreaker. The youngest son, Earl (Glenn
Fitzgerald), concentrates on raising prize-winning bulls. Their stoic father (Bob Burrus) focuses on
operating the farm. He's a widower who refuses to discuss his wife and deflects the attentions paid
by the local grocery store clerk (Natalie Canerday).

The action of the film unfolds over the course of one summer as the younger Tully halfheartedly
romances a local stripper (Catherine Kellner) and Earl hangs around with his pal Ella (Julianne
Nicholson), a veterinary student. Tully soon notices Ella, but the young woman rebuffs his
romantic advances and proposes they settle for being friends. This is clearly virgin territory for
Tully, and the result is a maturation. As the months progress, Ella and Tully develop a bond that is
deeper than anything he has previously experienced with a female. Her presence is a balm to both
brothers when a long buried family secret emerges that threatens to not only destroy the family
itself but also its livelihood.

As a director, Birmingham allows the material to unfold at a leisurely and deliberate pace.
Undoubtedly some audiences may find it too slow, yet Birmingham achieves the desired effect. She
skillfully steers the performers with sensitivity and simplicity, avoiding the maudlin and leaving the
viewer with the feeling of having witnessed something quite special. She elicits strong work from
her principals. Anson Mount (who starred opposite Britney Spears in Crossroads) delivers a star-
making turn as Tully, displaying a dynamic, charismatic screen presence he's yet to match. The
luminous Julianne Nicholson (known for her roles on TV in The Others, Ally McBeal, and Presidio
Med) offers a feisty and intense performance as Ella. Glenn Fitzgerald (Series 7 - The
Contenders, 40 Days and 40 Nights) offers a nuanced portrayal of the younger brother,
beautifully capturing one particularly heart-wrenching moment. As the taciturn patriarch of the
Coates family, stage actor Bob Burrus skillfully limns a man who cannot express the affection he
feels for his sons. The supporting roles are all handled well, with particular notice going to Natalie
Canerday (Sling Blade) as the cashier with feeling for Tully Senior, and Catherine Kellner (Divine
Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood) as Tully's latest conquest.

I would be remiss if I did not cite the gorgeous cinematography of John Foster, the rhythmic
editing of Affonso Goncalves, the sterling design work of Nathan W. Carlson and Bret Davidson
and the fine score by Marcelo Zarvos.


Rating: A-
MPAA Rating: R
© 2005 by C.E. Murphy. All Right Reserved.