Charlize Theron in the new movie "Tully." Photo credit: Focus Films
“Tully” is a no-holds-barred look at contemporary parenting that everyone should probably watch, whether they enjoy the experience or not. It’s hard to categorize this film: Is it a comedy? A drama? A female buddy flick? An important look at contemporary life? Uncomfortable and sometimes hard to stomach? In a word: Yes!
What's it about?
Charlize Theron plays Marlo, an overwhelmed mother of two who is about to give birth to her third baby. Theron famously gained 50 pounds for the role, and her mom bod, frumpy sweaters and generally exhausted countenance are the most realistic portrayal of motherhood seen on-screen in quite some time. After giving birth, she even makes a joke about her body resembling “a relief map of a war-torn country.” Relatable!
The other half of the couple, the slightly clueless and perpetually tired Ron Livingston, plays Marlo’s husband, Drew. On paper, he sounds like a “great dad” — a hard worker and a solid provider who does his share without complaining too much about the constant drudgery or lack of sex. In reality, he’s not so great, though, and frequently skives off to play video games after a busy day at the office.
Marlo’s youngest, Jonah, is repeatedly referred to as “quirky” by seemingly everyone in the film. This child clearly has some needs the family doesn’t have the time or energy to properly address.
Marlo’s wealthy brother Craig, senses his sister is heading for a trip to nervous breakdown town and insists they seek help from a night nanny. Alluding to the “bad time” Marlo experienced after baby number two, Craig literally presses the number into his sister’s hand with the insistence that “all of our friends have done it.”
Marlo is skeptical of having a stranger take care of her newborn, and Drew is worried that his brother-in-law will potentially lord it over them, but finally, the endless drudgery of it all takes its hold.
Cue the fresh-faced Tully, played by the luminous Mackenzie Phillips. She’s young and bright and has all the vibrancy and energy that Marlo’s lacking. She’s free in the exact opposite way that Marlo is tethered, making her both fascinating and slightly scary.
As she ministers to the family, Tully moves from being a stranger to Marlo’s heaven-sent best friend in record time and seems to save Marlo’s sanity in the process. Problem solved, right? Well...
There’s a major plot twist that I won’t give away, but let’s just say it’s potentially polarizing. To me, that isn’t the main issue with “Tully.” The movie certainly does not shy away from exposing hard truths, but maybe it’s because I am a mom that my response to the film overall was, “Yes, and...?”
If you’re a mother, you already know that caring for a newborn is one of the most intimate things you can do, but can also make you feel like your life-force is being sucked out of you. That said, there are moments of grace in the process that make it all worthwhile, which is why we keep doing it. That and the fact that tiny newborns grow into (mostly) wonderful kids.
Every mom can easily imagine getting to the point where you think, “I am losing it, and I need some help.” Whether you get the help or not, and the possible consequences of not getting it is perhaps the movie’s real message.
So, does that mean you should see it? Maybe. “Tully” seems to be marketed as a lighthearted, charming comedy, which has stirred some controversy. Diablo Cody has responded to some of the “uncomfortable” notions brought up in the film. While it’s not lighthearted overall, there are aspects of heartfelt relationship drama and “you literally cannot make this s--t up” humor that resonate. In short: It’s messy and hard to categorize, kind of like life.