Diablo Cody (“Juno,” “Young Adult”) writes this screenplay perhaps as she looks in the mirror, depicting life as a mother in one of the most raw and truthful films addressing the subject. And Jason Reitman sits in the director’s chair for each of Cody’s screenplays, the second time directing Charlize Theron who stars as Marlo, a mother of 2 and pregnant with her 3rd, whose wealthy brother offers to pay for a “night nanny.” With 2 active and demanding youngsters, a newborn, and a “typical” husband, Marlo is exhausted and bites the bullet, taking her brother up on his generous offer. As Tully (Mackenzie Davis) and Marlo begin to bond, life takes a wonderfully positive turn, but as the layers are peeled away we discover so much more. It’s an eloquent and insightful film that humorously and dramatically portrays the thoughts, emotions, and harsh realities of what motherhood is like on a daily basis as we are reminded of our dreams, our past, and our futures.
The first scene depicts a strange but peaceful interaction as Marlo brushes her young son, Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica). This is the calm before the storm as reality rears its evil head as the family gets ready for school. Rushed and late for a meeting, we learn that Jonah “is quirky,” perhaps on the Autism Spectrum. The tension builds to a deafening crescendo, plunging all of us moms who are honest enough to admit it into a caldron of boiling lava. There are more frustrating and incredulous yet relatable situation ahead as Marlo and her hubby (Ron Livingston) just get through the day after #3, Mia, is born.
Marlo’s struggles with balancing it all is like watching someone juggle fine china on a tightrope with her eyes closed. You know she’s going to fall, but how hard? Or will Tully truly save the day? The interaction between the Marlo and Davis is odd yet genuine creating a sense of connection as we all begin to wonder why we didn’t have a “night nanny!” As Marlo seems to steady herself with Tully’s support, that calmness returns. Life is good again. Or is it? After watching the film twice, there are plenty of clues to pick up on to alert you to what is, initially, a shocking conclusion to the film. While there is plenty of humor, this turn jolts you into understanding a bit more about the stress of childbirth and being a mother. It’s perfect, actually.
Cody’s script, Reitman’s direction, and the finely tuned execution of acting from the entire cast, but particularly Theron and Davis create one of the most open and honest depictions of what it’s like to be a mom. We see the birth of Mia and the sheer exhaustion without elation afterward. We get a glimpse into the never-ending days of diaper changes, cooking dinner, doing school work, crying baby, messes, and night feedings through quick-paced editing. We feel her stress and exhaustion thanks to all of these components skillfully interwoven into the picture.
Theron is simply perfect in her portrayal of Marlo. We are immediately connected to her and understand her every look and thought. It’s as if she is allowing us to read her mind. Theron is a master at this, and Davis seems to rise to Theron’s level of performance, balancing one another beautifully.
Livingston’s portrayal of Drew is pretty typical of “every dad” at least from most wives’ perspective. He’s sweet and loves his kids dearly, but really is out of touch. His incessant video gaming doesn’t help matters and Marlo seems bothered, but too tired to truly do anything about it. Again, most moms/wives out there can easily relate to this situation as well, even though a lot of dads out there are going to feel a bit slighted in the way this dad is portrayed.
“Tully” is a remarkable work of art as it depicts reality. The story is told from a woman’s perspective about an issue and issues we moms experience. I’ve never laughed so hard as I could relate to situations, knowing that while motherhood is wonderful, it’s one of the toughest jobs out there. That’s where “Tully” makes a statement like no other of its cinematic predecessors–it’s honest and filled with humor while serving raw emotion to all.