Jason Reitman’s latest project, Tully, is a blistering look at the parts of motherhood that aren’t covered in Parenting magazine.
While Hollywood has spent years glamorizing the simplicities that come with motherhood, writer Diablo Cody — an Oscar winner for Juno (her first collaboration with Reitman) — seeks to expose those raw moments which make parenting the hardest job ever. Enhancing Cody’s narrative is a spirited performance from Charlize Theron, who commits to the role in such a way that your heart breaks as she struggles to juggle it all.
Marlo (Theron) is a mother in her mid-40s with two kids and is pregnant with her third child. Drew (Ron Livingston) works during the day and tries to help with the kids at night, but when their third child, Mia, is born, Marlo begins to bear the brunt of the work. As the lack of the sleep starts to wear on her, the clutter of her house and the constant struggle to stay on top of everyday jobs gets to be too much. Her brother, played by Mark Duplass, offers to pay for a night nurse so that his sister can get some rest. At first, she rejects the idea but after some consideration, she changes her mind. Enter Tully (Mackenzie Davis), the night nurse whose arrival has an immediate impact but on Marlo’s life. But is it for the better?
Cody’s narrative effortlessly weaves in the emotional beats of Marlo’s journey with those raw moments of parenthood. There’s an authenticity to this tale of motherhood which we rarely see onscreen. Tully doesn’t attempt to make any moment of motherhood or even marriage appear neat or straightforward. Cody seeks to tell the unvarnished truth, and she achieves that easily.
Theron’s performance in the film is riveting. There’s nothing overt about her method. In fact, it’s her understated portrayal that makes it feel all too real. The Oscar-winning actress hits all her comedic beats while adding the right emotion when it is needed. Her most substantial moments come at the oddest of times. When Tully is talking about when the last time Marlo was intimate with her spouse, she takes such a self-deprecating stance that it seems like we are observing life as it unfolds.
Theron also nails the moments when talking about her son who has special needs and is often referred to as “quirky.” At first, it seems odd that Cody wouldn’t have written the line to simply refer to autism, but saying “quirky” is more of a realistic response. Often, my wife runs into people who are at a loss for words when it comes to discussing our oldest son. The moment when Marlo loses it on someone for using the “q” word one too many times is something that’s happened to me.
Reitman keeps the pace brisk moving along nicely, allowing very little lag. Cinematographer Eric Steelberg makes excellent use of his shots, using close-ups (just like The Handmaid’s Tale) to highlight the more emotional moments in the film. Sometimes, a page of dialogue isn’t nearly as useful but a shot of Marlo punching the steering wheel as her son is having a fit is. The supporting cast of the film, notably Davis and Livingston, fill in those voids, making Tully a complete movie.
Overall, we have to remember that even during the hysteria of Avengers: Infinity War, other releases are not only worthy but special. Tully is an extraordinary film with fantastic performances and writing which is both poignant and original. Reitman’s film is an ode to all the hardworking and selfless mothers around the globe. So Susan, Alana, Tara, Kathy, Jennifer, Megan, Melissa, Jeanne, Mindy, Aldara, Tara G., Corey, and all the mothers I couldn’t possibly list, this one’s for you.