Review: Charlize Theron grapples with the harsh realities of motherhood in ‘Tully’

Postpartum Marlo (Charlize Theron) removes her shirt after her son spills water on it, as her daughter asks, ‘Mom, what’s wrong with your body?’ (Courtesy of Focus Features on Youtube)

“Tully” comes off as a combination of screenwriter Diablo Cody’s past works, “Juno” (2007) and “Young Adult” (2011), but with a magical realist twist. The shaky camera style and subdued performance by Charlize Theron make the story feel more intimate, more tangible, as Cody and director Jason Reitman themselves have grown from quippy 20-somethings to bona fide 40-year-olds.

But maturity doesn’t necessarily equate to wisdom. The film follows Marlo (Charlize Theron), an overworked, pregnant mother of two — and soon to be three — as she struggles with the harsh realities of parenting. After her new baby is born, Marlo slips into postpartum depression, which worries her brother Craig (Mark Duplass). Enter Tully (Mackenzie Davis), the titular millennial “night nanny” whom the much wealthier Craig hires to take care of the children so Marlo can sleep through the night.

Tully is a free-spirited, crop-top and skinny jean wearing 26-year-old manic pixie dream girl. In other words, the character is the very embodiment of the pre-motherhood life that Marlo misses, representing the “Juno” era of Cody’s life — she had won an Oscar for that film’s witty screenplay when she was around Tully’s age. Meanwhile, the character of Marlo represents Cody today. Theron gained 50 pounds for the role of Marlo, who repeatedly stares in wonder at Tully’s slim frame as she effortlessly flits around the house, speaking in fun facts (“I’m like Saudi Arabia — I have an energy surplus!”).

At the same time, Tully serves as a reminder to Marlo that being young and aimless is only fun for a few years, and that growing up and settling down can be just as, if not more, fulfilling. Marlo learns to find joy in the little things, such as badly singing Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” at karaoke with her daughter.

The idea of having a child and not immediately feeling that maternal love and joy is absolutely terrifying, and “Tully” validates mothers who may feel guilty for craving their pre-motherhood lives. It’s not that Marlo doesn’t love her kids; she’s just suffering from postpartum depression and doesn’t have the energy or support she needs to care for them. When her husband Drew (Ron Livingston) isn’t working, he’s isolating himself in their bedroom by putting headphones on and playing video games. When Marlo isn’t taking care of their three children, which is rare, she’s fantasizing about an ethereal mermaid rescuing her from drowning in postpartum depression.

Movies about motherhood don’t often show the messiness of breast pumps, catheters and debilitating exhaustion. “Tully” offers a raw, unfiltered look at these complicated real-life aspects that are often glossed over in favor of one-dimensional squeaky clean or overtly abusive portrayals of mothers. While Cody’s past work may have been more comedic and quippy, she has retained her skill of writing relatable, complex anti-heroines who aren’t interested in conforming to traditional feminine standards or being perfect role models.

“Tully” is now playing in theaters everywhere.

Follow Mia on Twitter at @MIACINO.


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