“Tully” – Parenting is hard.
Just ask Marlo (Charlize Theron). She’s an overworked mom and seemingly eight months and three weeks pregnant, but thankfully, she just left her job for maternity leave.
Her 8-year-old daughter, Emmy (Maddie Dixon-Poirier), is starting to grow a little self-conscious, but the school principal describes her 5-year-old son, Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica), as quirky. (In this case, quirky means problematic and disruptive.)
Soon, Marlo’s and Drew’s (Ron Livingston) third child, Mia, is born, and despite running a household and three kids without a 9 to 5 corporate gig, she needs help. Immediately! Her brother (Mark Duplass) recommends a night nanny, a woman who enters your home and works third shift by watching the baby, while mom sleeps, sans nightly feedings.
Enter 26-year-old Tully (Mackenzie Davis), an athletic, tall blonde with a big smile and an equally sizable heart. She quotes great writers and philosophers and focuses on one job: taking care of Marlo by taking care of Mia. See how she works?
Well, this new comedy from director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody also works very, very well.
Reitman’s films are always worth experiencing – “Thank You for Smoking” (2005), “Juno” (2007), “Young Adult” (2011) – but he has not enjoyed a critical/commercial hit since 2009’s “Up in the Air”. Who knows how the box office will eventually play out, but critically, he lands with “Tully”, starring his “Young Adult” star, Theron.
Marlo is a poster child for exhaustion, and during the film’s first 30 minutes, Reitman and Theron demonstrate the absolutely misery of motherhood.
Struggles to dress her kids.
Struggles to keep a clean house, when spills and clutter reign supreme.
Struggles walk stairs with an infant and an obstinate child in tow.
Struggles to cook a healthy family meal, when frozen pizza and vegetables will have to do.
Struggles for normalcy.
Struggles for sleep.
Other than exposing elementary school kids to a 15-minute movie of two dozen live births, this critic cannot think of a better form of birth control than Marlo’s unholy struggle during the film’s first act. As the constant, stressful bombardment of chaos pours off the screen, mothers everywhere will appreciate, commiserate and relate in some way.
Tully, however, appears to be her savoir, as Marlo lets go of the never-ending grind, and becomes a 16-hour a day mother, as 8 hours of sleep every night becomes her reward.
Cody’s fingerprints are all over the screenplay. She specializes in diving into problems for contemporary, suburban women and sets the right tone of “what are we doing and how did I get here” that she also delivered in “Juno”, “Jennifer’s Body” (2009) and “Young Adult”.
“As the days go by” – as noted in Talking Heads “Once in a Lifetime” – Marlo’s motherhood-days have somehow become years, and the dynamic between this savoir and this wounded soldier becomes paramount. Marlo has absolutely no intention of dismissing Tully, and their relationship fascinates. Tully reminds Marlo of more carefree days, and the more images of freedom, wonder and youth appear in her view, she engenders dramatically less desire to mire in tricky and sticky business on her own or perhaps not at all.
Although Drew is a capable husband and father, Marlo really is flying solo on this hardship journey. Theron physically and emotionally carries the absolute worst that any mother may feel, whether moms out there have experienced Marlo’s distress for a moment, a few occasional hours during a typical week or constantly.
The strengths of “Tully” lay with Theron’s emphatic performance, Davis’s bright, hopeful light, the feeling of overwhelming household quicksand, and Marlo’s eventual path, because Tully’s lasting presence just feels too good to be true. One can only hope that she will stay forever, because no question, parenting is hard.
⭐⭐⭐ 1/2 out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Image credits: Focus Features; Trailer credits: Zero Media