Authentic Portrayal of Motherhood
Tully is a female character driven movie from the heart, which mothers universally will champion and applaud for its realism—to be clear, it is not the flawlessly staged Mommy Blog Instagram photos that display angelic children with posed smiles and lovely stain-free attire. Native Chicago suburban writer Diablo Cody, known for her Academy Award winning screenplay of Juno (2007) along with director Jason Reitman brings us their third film together. Tully’s tone feels like the grownup version of Juno; she’s now in mid-life crises mode, heading smack dab into postpartum depression. But, don’t let that scare you off, this quick-witted dark comedy, had me laughing out loud. Tully is a film for all to see, to clearly appreciate that motherhood, like old age, is not for sissies. If anything, you’ll gain an empathic view of the never-ending duties and responsibilities of merely being a mom.
To begin, we are introduced to 40-year-old Marlo (Charlize Theron) in her last days of pregnancy; a mother of two who’s expecting her third and, alas surprise baby. It’s the nightly bedtime routine as Marlo gently therapeutically brushes the skin of her 5-year-old son, Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica), as he has dramatic, anxiety-driven episodes, undiagnosed at this point, but labeled “quirky.” Marlo’s husband Drew (Ron Livingston) doesn’t interact much with the kids; he travels and tunes out by playing video-games when he is home. To be fair, Drew loves Marlo and their children, he’s taken on more responsibility in his job, which yields a higher paycheck, but as a result, he’s stressed out. Quickly, we surmise Margo’s challenging situation—this is all before the baby is born.
In capturing the actual essence of the birth experience, I must say, this is one of the most genuine I’ve seen on screen. Edited to perfection—the real deal. Not the drawn-out wailing, ear-piercing screams—here the focus is on the nonnegotiable exhaustion from hours of labor. Theron’s performance is astonishing, she, along with the clever script and sharp direction bring the movie to life. Ah, yes, a new baby, Mia, is her name, all those hopes, and dreams. Yet, there’s constant sleeplessness, non-stop nursing, piled-up laundry, that over-flowing Diaper Genie, atypical outbursts from Jonah, lack of co-parenting, unfamiliar body image, etc. We see the helplessness of the situation and come to realize that even in a wanted pregnancy that has support, motherhood is a tough job.
Suddenly, out of nowhere a ray of light appears. Marlo’s wealthy brother (Mark Duplass) talks her into hiring a “night nanny,” a part-time nocturnal caregiver offering mom sleep so she’ll be able to deal the daytime duties. And, to sweeten the deal, it’s bro’s gift. When Tully, played by Mackenzie Davis, shows up at Marlo’s door, the film takes a tonal shift. She’s a younger version of Marlo, although mysterious, an old-soul offering kind unspoken gestures, friendship, and support. Finally, we all breathe a sigh of relief.
Despite, the newfound help, Margo meets yet another roadblock from Jonah’s school. She receives no clarity or answers regarding his outbursts from the school staff, all culminating with the principal asking her to withdraw Jonah from school and start elsewhere. Margo now faces the challenge and worry of finding a new school for Jonah. The tension is yet again tight in Margo’s world.
Margo begins to find solace in Tully, confiding in her while chatting like old girlfriends. She longs for her 20s, plotting a trip to Brooklyn to re-visit her old neighborhood bars. Tully says she’ll go out partying with Margo, but oddly, the details of those conversations begin to seem one-sided. In deference to the script, I’ll keep the plot twist under lock and key. Here, just know that Theron and Davis’s chemistry is spot-on.
No person, book, maternity class, blog, etc. can truly prepare anyone for ‘motherhood;’ having gone through it three times myself, I can attest to Tully’s remarkable authenticity. One does feel under a microscope when pregnant; I’m still shocked as I recall statements and questions by total strangers. As in, “Are you going to nurse your baby?” “When are you due, looks like any day now?” “ Awww…you’re having a girl, I can tell, you’re so big for six months, and your weight is all around.” Speaking of weight, Theron shared in several interviews that she gained close to 50 pounds for the role as she wanted to experience the difference in her body, and the struggles with weight loss. She’s a mother of two adapted children, August 2-years-old and Jackson 6-years-old. Her children refer to Tully as the movie when mommy’s belly got big.
There’s so much to learn and value in seeing the film; I appreciated the fact that a troubled mom did seek help, I’m just not sure the script needed the plot twist. To me, the film could easily stand on its own as a genuine portrait of motherhood as an art form, without the twist.
Sarah Knight Adamson© May 3, 2018