Some of my favourite kinds of films are those where you need to watch it more than once to gather parts you may have missed on the first go-around. Films like Momento and Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind where on the second viewing you’re looking for the clues you didn’t even know were planted in the first place. Upon reading the synopsis I didn’t expect Tully to be one of these films but I was pleasantly surprised. I should add I like Diablo Cody, the writer of this film. Her works include, Juno, Jennifer’s Body and Young Adult. There is something about her quick witted dialog and “quirky” characters that I have always enjoyed. Director Jason Reitman tackles the topic of motherhood again but unlike Juno it delves deeper into the life of a mid-thirties woman with three kids and postpartum with an end result that may not sit well with many. I am childless at the moment—unless you count my fur baby Little Chairman Mao— but I’d love to know what a mother thinks of this film. Especially with a finale such as this one, which I don’t plan to ruin in this review.
The film begins with a very pregnant Charlize Theron who’s character goes by the name of Marlo. She’s about to have her third child with her husband Drew, an accident we soon discover. Her two other children, Sarah and Jonah are closer in age and older but Jonah seems to be a little “troubled.” It’s mentioned during a conversation with her wealthy brother Craig (played by Mark Duplass) that Jonah was a tough pregnancy for Marlo and has been hard to care for ever since. The school he attends arranges parent/teacher meetings to let Marlo know Jonah takes up too much of the Kindergarten teacher’s time because he’s just so “quirky.” They offer suggestions that she look into an “aid” to help him. Marlo simply smiles unsure how she will pay for such a thing and jokes she has to pay for “aids.” “Only one.” the principal replies, missing the joke completely.
During dinner Craig offers Marlo a special gift instead of the usual needs. “Is it money?” she asks. “Because you know I’m not above that!” Craig explains he wants to gift her a night nanny. Something he and his wife used during their pregnancy that he found helped his wife greatly. Marlo scoffs at the idea but takes the phone number he gives her. There is this beautifully filmed and exhausting montage when the baby is born (aptly named Mia) of Marlo waking up in the middle of the night, feeding the baby, changing diapers, using the breast pump, trying to sleep amongst the other children’s chaos in her messy home and so it repeats. A true moment of a mother giving life, sustaining it and it draining the life out of her. It seemed heart-breakingly relatable to many women who were at the same screening as me. I could hear many of them sigh in response to the reality and bleakness of motherhood which is not what we usually see on the big screen. Marlo’s husband Drew isn’t much help either. He works during the day and comes home late to help the older kids with some homework and then plays video games before bed. He’s clueless, like I imagine many husbands are of his wife’s non-stop role of caring for a newborn and the anguish that comes with it.
Then we are introduced to the name-sake of this film, Tully (played by Canadian actress Mackenzie Davis) who enters Marlo’s life like a wave of relief. She’s 26 years old, wise beyond her years and offers “fun facts for unpopular forth graders” as Marlo puts it. That night Marlo has what she recalls as the best night of sleep she’s had in a long time. Throughout the film she dreams of a mermaid swimming in the deep abyss, as Tully comes in and out of the house like a ghost in the evenings to care for baby Mia. She only wakes Marlo when she needs to feed and hides in the shadows until she’s finished to take Mia away and let her sleep again. Marlo marvels at the clean home and freshly baked cupcakes Tully leaves for her in the morning. We, the viewers watch Marlo come back to life before us and reach an alls-well-in-the-world mentality but we cannot help but wonder where’s the catch? When will we be hitting the climax of this film that unleashes the drama we can only expect from a Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody collaboration?
Charlize Theron’s performance is pretty powerful in this film. Unlike Young Adult this role feels more of a challenge for Theron. She put on weight which her on screen daughter exclaims “Mom, what’s wrong with your body?!” It’s not a glamorous role, however not as un-glamorous as Monster was and Diabo Cody’s dialog seems better fitted to this character’s personality than that of Young Adult. Marlo isn’t a bad mother, just tired, run down and trying to keep her head above water to do the best for her children. The introduction of Tully fleshes out Theron’s character further and deepens the viewer’s connection with these two, who have beautiful dialog amongst each other with the same verbal flair every now and then we enjoyed from Juno. It’s great on screen chemistry which Mackenzie Davis deserves just as much credit for. Tully takes care of Marlo just as much as the baby and offers companionship during what can feel like such an isolating, lonely time and the sympathy and appreciation she deserves and craves. Tully gives Marlo pause to reflect on the optimism and vibrancy that youth holds and is never coming back to Marlo. A relationship that may even come off as melancholy upon second viewing.
I wouldn’t say this film is a pessimistic look on motherhood but a realistic one, sometimes too honest, unflinching and difficult to watch. However there is a lot of warmth, some good laughs in between and beautiful performances by Theron and Davis. Definitely worth a watch… maybe even two.