Courtesy: Focus Features

Film

Charlize Theron Is a Mom Who's Over It in 'Tully'

By now, it's pretty much a cliché to talk about how good Charlize Theron can be. It needs saying again, though, because in Tully, a bristly comedic drama about the lies we tell ourselves to get through our lives, she is astonishing.

Diablo Cody wrote and Jason Reitman directed the small, unexpected, acutely observed movie—they gave us Juno and Young Adult—and this time, Theron plays Marlo, a harried, bone-weary fortysomething mother about to deliver her third kid. Once a free-spirited Brooklynite, Marlo, now bloated by baby weight and disappointment, mostly dons a stoic, everything’s-fine-and-dandy face, while blithely neglecting her daughter, Sarah (Lia Frankland), and suppressing memories of her own hellacious postpartum depression following the birth of her special-needs son, Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica).

Even though she has a well-meaning, ineffectual husband (Ron Livingston) and tries to pretend that everything’s all roses and sunshine, she’s coming apart at the seams. Jonah acts out and gets booted from school, meanwhile the boy’s principal wants Marlo to hire a tutor that she can’t fit into the household budget. Her rich jerkwad brother, Craig (a just-right Mark Duplass), has Marlo figured out dead to rights. Craig refers to her as a match that’s been “snuffed out.” Marlo is breaking down, and no one else but Craig spots the flashing warning signs. 

Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman provide the space for Charlize Theron to deliver her most searing work since she won the Oscar for Monster.

After she gives birth to a baby daughter (we barely catch the baby’s name), Craig gifts Marlo with 26-year-old Tully (the radiant, off-kilter Mackenzie Davis), a kind of New Age-style Mary Poppins. Technically a “night nurse” hired to allow Marlo to at least catch up on her sleep, the utterly frank, ever-reliable and sexy Tully is a human sunbeam—so perfectly perfect and helpful that she’s irritating. Marlo tells her she's “like a book of fun facts for unpopular fourth-graders."

Of course, Marlo (and the other cynics among us) might like to hate Tully, but she’s too busy cheerfully tidying up, baking cupcakes, mixing up sangria, dispensing sex advice and becoming Marlo’s confidante. “It’s like I can see color again,” Marlo says of Tully's influence. It's a line which nails one of the movie’s big ideas: that motherhood—which everyone here talks about as a “blessing”—can also be draining, messy and stultifying. Theron shows it in every scene; she’s exhausted, played-out brutal, incisive, un-Hollywood, and she’s brilliant.

The trailer makes Tully look snarky and hip, which is fine if it helps sell tickets. After all, that once was Cody’s—and Reitman's—cinematic brand. Cody's gift for mocking absurdity remains strong and stinging, but she’s also grown into a much bigger, more humanistic talent. Likewise, Reitman has not only found his footing again as a director but also reveals himself as a richer, more mature and humane director than before. These two need to keep working together at every possible opportunity because Tully is their trickiest, boldest, most tender and ambitious collaboration to date, especially when it takes a left turn and moves into fantasy.

During the movie’s second half, the characters—and we, the audience—get taken down twisty, unexpected roads that deepen what we’ve already seen, and intensify the truth-telling exponentially. Cody and Reitman provide the space for Theron to deliver her most searing work since she won the Oscar for Monster. Tully is exhilarating stuff. 

Tully

Pros
Charlize Theron delivers
Cons
Might not be what you're expecting from the trailer
Rating: 3.5 out of 4 bunnies

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