Review: Charlize Theron hits the mother load in ‘Tully’ (★★★½)
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Charlize Theron is a deliriously committed actress. Whether it’s being in top shape and doing her own stunts for Atomic Blonde and Mad Max: Fury Road or de-glamming for her Oscar-winning role in Monster, she hits and she hits hard in a way that fewer actresses do. She digs in and lives in her roles. For Tully, Theron is in full deglam mode once again, going makeup free and gaining 50 lbs for the role. We often talk about men transforming their bodies for their art but women doing it is about being ‘fearless’ to look like shit. Less deference to craft and more ‘Look at her body now!’ type of TMZ-level debate.
Theron plays Marlo, a mother at 40 of a newborn. With a high-maintenance 10-year old son Jonah on the autism spectrum (an idea that isn’t fully developed) and a highly functioning daughter in 8-year old Sarah. Marlo’s husband Drew (played by Ron Livingston) is no help; he lives a Peter Pan life, never really growing up from his teenage years of playing video games all night despite being a father of three children.
There is a brutal honesty and nakedness to Diablo Cody’s writing that fits so well with Reitman as a director. Both balance tonal shifts that can exist in the same sentence of dialogue with tremendous acuity. Reitman finds the way to make Cody’s whip smart and hyper-real dialogue grounded and humanistic. This is the third collaboration between the pair and they could easily turn into one of film’s most consistent and necessary pairings.
This is the third collaboration between Reitman and Cody (the first being the teen pregnancy Oscar winner Juno) and in many ways it feels like the spiritual sister sequel to their previous effort with Theron, Young Adult. You could easily see Marlo being a version of YA‘s Mavis in the future. There’s even a symmetry to their names which doesn’t feel quite by accident.
This is a comedy, to be sure, but it’s a sharp examination of postpartum depression, a subject rarely (ever?) discussed as a main theme for a feature film. It’s a story that will speak loudly, and volumes, to many women. The unraveling, the faux SJW looks and comments from the woman who shames you for ordering a decaf coffee because there’s still a sliver of caffeine in there and OMG WHAT ABOUT THE BABY? As with most of Cody’s writing, the zippy one-liners are carefully crafted masks of superhero-level disguise hiding a much deeper pain.
Enter midnight savior Tully (played with lithe and ease by Halt and Catch Fire’s Mackenzie Davis), a millennial Mary Poppins by way of Coachella. She comes an upper-middle class gift thanks to Marlo’s wealthy douchebag brother Craig (played with perfect upper class snobbery by Mark Duplass) as a ‘night nanny.’ Quite literally overnight, Tully snaps her fingers and the house is tip top shape. Marlo has the first night’s sleep she’s had in years (“It’s like I can see color again”).
From there, Marlo starts to get her groove back; her and Tully venture into hipster Bushwick to party and wreak havoc, a renewed sexual awakening happens in Marlo that takes Drew by surprise. She has a new lease on life. What happens next is a bit of a leap of faith but if you’ve been with the movie to this point, it’s more of a skip and an ‘aha’ moment. It defies our expectations on how we view and think about mental health and the magnitude of empathy. It might not totally succeed but boy, does it deserve major points for going there.
Directed by: Jason Reitman
Written by: Diablo Cody
Cast: Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Mark Duplass, Ron Livingston
Production: Bron Studios, Right Way Productions, Denver and Delilah Productions, Creative Wealth Media Finance
Produced by: Diablo Cody, A.J. Dix, Helen Estabrook, Aaron L. Gilbert, Beth Kono, Mason Novick, Jason Reitman, Charlize Theron
Executive producers: Jason Blumenfeld, Jason Cloth, David Gendron, Ali Jazayeri, Ron McLeod, Andrew Pollack, Andria Spring, Paul Tennyson, Steven Thibault, Stan Thomas, Dale Wells
Distributor: Focus Features
Release date: May 4, 2018