Film & Television

“Tully’; or ‘Adventures in Postpartum Depression’

Life is so much better with Tully than without, that Marlo is shaken when the night nanny tells her it’s time for them to part ways. They plan a last hurrah, set appropriately to Cyndi Lauper’s 80s album She’s So Unusual. The evening ends unexpectedly and the movie ends quite wonderfully. And, to avoid spoiling a really worthwhile movie experience, that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Tully is the third collaboration between writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman. Their first, 2007’s Juno, was an offbeat but brilliantly written story of a pregnant teen. (Cody won the Oscar for Best Screenplay that year.) Their second, 2011’s Young Adult, examined the arrested development of a writer trying to go back to her youth and roots. Many reviewers have described Tully as the final chapter in a trilogy of sorts. Reitman recently told Entertainment Weekly, “It’s like we’ve been working together on this mutual diary for the last decade. We’re around the same age, and we started working together, and every five years, we’ve made a movie that somehow echoes our most recent experiences.” Cody responded with relief in the same interview, “I thought you were going to say, ‘It feels as though the chapter has closed and I don’t have to talk to this woman anymore.'” Cody got the idea for Tully from her own experience caring for her third child.

While the writing and direction are sharp and fresh, a large part of the success of Tully is due to its leading lady, Charlize Theron. (Theron previously worked with Reitman and Cody as the star of Young Adult.) The actress reportedly gained 50 pounds for the role of Marlo. She strikes the exact — and often concurrent — balance between loving mother and raving lunatic. When the school principal calls Jonah “quirky” one too many times, Marlo explodes. “Quirky? Do I have a kid or a fucking ukulele? Why don’t you say what you mean—that he’s retarded.” When a drink is knocked over at the family dinner table (frozen pizza and something green), Marlo pulls off her wet shirt and sinks back into her chair, sagging bra, postpartum belly and all. “Mom,” her daughter Sarah asks, wrinkling her nose, “What’s wrong with your body?” Theron’s performance (like so many from this fine actress and Oscar-winner as real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos in 2003’s Monster) is fearless and open and always painfully honest.

Theron is well-matched by costar Mackenzie Davis as Tully. Davis (memorable in Black Mirror‘s Emmy-winning “San Junipero“) is fully engaged with her charges. She adores the baby and is equally gentle with the mother. She has a wide-eyed wonder about life that Marlo recognizes and sorely misses. “You’re like a book of fun facts for unpopular fourth graders.” Their relationship is one of the most enjoyable — and eventually interesting — aspects of the movie.

A night nanny, a real thing according to the website, is out of reach for most new mothers. But the trials and emotions and fatigue with which Marlo copes are all too real. Cody and Reitman have really broken ground with their portrayal of motherhood here. It isn’t soft-focused and sacred, but neither is it laugh-out-loud funny. In Tully, motherhood is messy and noisy and difficult as hell. People (friends, family, even strangers) are quick to judge you, and you can never be completely successful. But the film is very clear that motherhood is a noble enterprise despite it all.

When the house is quiet (thanks, largely to Tully’s near-miraculous presence), there’s a poignant quality to Marlo’s life. She reminisces about her youth and envies Tully’s life as well as her 26-year old body. Marlo loves her family, but is clear-sighted. There were good things she left behind, and she worries that she’s failing.

In the end, that’s why she really needs the nanny. Tully assures Marlo that she’s a good mother, and as she emerges from her depression, Marlo finally believes it.

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