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Tully Coates, Jr., with his good looks and chiseled body, is the local heartthrob, and while he has a new girlfriend virtually every night, he's incapable of getting close to anyone. His younger brother Earl, the shy and sensitive type, frequents the local revival house. The only common bond between these disparate siblings is Ella Smalley, an intelligent and even-tempered young woman who returns to their Nebraska hometown to intern at a local veterinarian's clinic. Meanwhile, their father, Tully, Sr., a rancher who gets by with the help of his two sons, carries a brooding sadness, a hint of past wounds too long in healing. The family dynamic is changed forever when several secrets surface. Written by
Sujit R. Varma
"Tully" is a gem of a movie! It's the first film I've seen since the beginning of August that I've put on my "Best of 2002" list. Evidently this debut feature has apparently been sitting on a shelf for two years, probably looking for distribution.
Based on a short story, it takes a simple family story and tells it beautifully visually, economically but leisurely, while avoiding cliches. It is the best evocation of small town life since "Last Picture Show," but this is much more rural. The laconic farmer family is the best portrayed since "Straight Story," but that was propelled as a road movie, not what taciturn life on the farm is like, which poses a challenge in a communicative medium.
We see the most charming and complicated relationship between two brothers since another little movie "Smiling Fish and Goats on Fire." Surprisingly, it doesn't take the simple road of competition between the titular womanizing "bad brother" and the younger, loyal "good brother". Instead, Tully (Anson Mount is quite a hunk!) is a direct descendant of the tortured, conflicted James Dean of "East of Eden" and "Giant" (including the Oedipal conflicts there), struggling in a macho environment with his impact on women, his feelings, and his responsibilities.
With completely character appropriate dialogue and body language we watch the impact of old love and falling in love on a father and son who have no words and only gradual understanding. You can't know you're heartbroken until you know you have a heart. The women can have this impact on them because they too are not cliches; they have specific personalities, needs, and even jobs. Julianne Nicholson is very credible and expressive.
Several old men in my audience yawned loudly, so maybe this is a chick flick, but I was involved and moved by the unfolding of realizations in their past and present family and romantic relationships and how Tully comes to grips with them all, like a long, silent, overhead shot of him waking up in an empty bed that manages to communicate so much loneliness and longing.
John Foster's cinematography is simply gorgeous.
The mise en scene is common in country songs, so we're lucky that the director probably couldn't afford commercial country artists on the soundtrack for the usual cliches. Instead we have Canadian alt country singers like Fred Eaglesmith and Oh Susanna (the only names I recognized), with some blues thrown in as well such that Tully even asks what radio station could that be, as they are all very sensitive to music, as it helps them all communicate with each other. And with us.
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