Director: Jason Reitman
Cast: Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Ron Livingston, Mark Duplass
When motherhood is portrayed on screen, it’s often done quite lightly. The mental, emotional and physical toll a woman is put through is rarely shown to such a degree that it can put the fear of Mother Nature in you. Perhaps this is down to a lack of female-written/directed stories (not for want of trying) in such a male-dominated industry. One female writer, however, has managed to fight her way through and land some successful female-centric stories, including 2007’s Juno and 2011’s Young Adult. That writer is Diablo Cody. Along with her directorial collaborator Jason Reitmain, the pair have created another representation of a very human and very primal experience: that of not just motherhood, but third-time motherhood. So how well can a movie like this fair in the current climate of blockbusters and sure-fire entertainment?
Marlo (Theron) is a married mother of two with one more on the way. Her husband, Drew (Livingston), is often away for business. Their relationship is occasionally strained, but the two genuinely love and want to support one another, and so the foundations are solid. In spite of this, Marlo finds her hands incredibly full when the third child is born. Seeing that she could use some help, her wealthy brother Craig (Duplass) offers to pay for a night nanny, to which Marlo is initially reluctant but eventually agrees to. Enter Tully (Davis), a quirky twenty-six-year-old to whom Marlo quickly warms to. The pair develop a very trusting and open friendship, which proves to be quite fulfilling for Marlo, but isn’t necessarily the right course for either of them.
To put it simply, Tully does fair very well in its own right, and that is largely down to Cody. Her familiar writing style is apparent throughout the story at large: candid, and with her signature dry humour. It’s particularly through Marlo and Tully’s dialogue that Cody’s real understanding of her subject matter is most creditable. She is very blatant and no-holds-barred when it comes to reality on film: Marlo is, for the most part, a busy mother who rarely has time to herself. Theron went above and beyond to show this physically, putting on 50lbs in a short amount of time to accurately show the reality (for most) of a post-pregnancy body. Marlo’s short fuse gets even shorter when she’s having to speak to the principal of her children’s school, as one of her kids has some learning difficulties (another stressful aspect of Marlo’s life) and the school no longer think they can accommodate him. Cody is a mother herself, and so it’s probably safe to say that a lot of her own experiences as a mother have fed into her creation of Marlo and her life, and that’s exactly what is needed in films like this. Women and mothers love films too (such an obvious statement shouldn’t need saying, but there it is), and seeing something they’ve been through represented accurately and thoughtfully, whether the same, less or more, can make the world of difference in how they feel about themselves and their experience(s). More women such as Cody are sorely needed in the film industry, putting out personal experiences for women to relate to and to educate men, generally speaking, though it’s good education for all.
As mentioned, Theron went to extreme lengths to create Marlo, a character that is representative of so many women. Her performance is staggering and immersive, and, just like Cody, it’s probably helpful that she too is a mother. For much of the film, she is make-up-free, heavier than we’d normally see her in movies, and generally more typical of a woman in Marlo’s position. And yet it’s difficult not to notice how much Theron still radiates a natural splendour, not just because she is a naturally beautiful woman, but because she brings a fierceness to Marlo, the sort of fierceness that only a mother can wield. It makes her primally attractive, and not just in the physical sense. This ultimately means she completely commands your attention. Countering this is Davis’ Tully, who, although she (the character) very much has an air of confidence and candour, is a sympathetic and calm support to Marlo in every way she needs her to be. Where Marlo is fierce and yet vulnerable at times, Tully is much more relaxed and reassuring. The two balance each other and it creates a unification not only in the characters but in the story: the messy, hectic life of a mother blending with the flippant, undeveloped life of a twenty-something makes for quite the yin and yang. Theron and Davis both have a great natural chemistry on-screen too, which makes it easy to accept their friendship no matter how unlikely or strange it may get at times.
If there’s one small downfall for Tully, it’s predictability. Without giving anything away, there are aspects of Marlo and Tully that coincide a little too easily, the result of which isn’t quite as well hidden as Cody and Reitman may have wanted. Perhaps they did want that transparency, though the end of the third act doesn’t come across that way. Nevertheless, it doesn’t detract from the point of the movie: it’s hard being a mother. Marlo’s love and devotion to her children is clear throughout, but so is her exhaustion and thoughts of the person she used to be and could have become. We could say ‘it’s hard being a parent’, and of course it is, no matter your gender, however this movie is about motherhood, specifically a mother with a new-born and two other children and a working husband. Tully is truly a gritty and genuine story that many mothers, fathers and guardians will relate to, some in more ways than others. It’s an all-rounder that speaks on multiple levels of parenting. Cody and Reitman as a team always produce something not only worthwhile but also ground-breaking in its own way. There always seems to be a gap of a few years between their significant collaborations, and it’s truly exciting to wait and see what they will bring us next, but here’s hoping it won’t be too long before their next offering.