Charlize Theron delivers a brutally honest portrayal of motherhood in a performance that captures the collective consciousness of every mother who has ever raised kids. Certainly, the middle and upper class are in the spotlight, but the film manages to circumvent pretentiousness thanks to the down-to-earth performances of Charlize Theron and Mackenzie Davis. There is, however, more to Reitman’s film than meets the eye as the director and writer Diablo Cody team up for the third time after collaborating on “Juno” and “Young Adult.”
When Charlize Theron appears in films like “The Fate of the Furious” you can equate that with you and I going on vacation, she’s having fun with a role that she could phone in if she wanted. Then a movie like “Tully” comes along to remind us why Theron won the Academy Award. The actress plays the middle-aged Marlo, a mom twice over expecting baby number three. Her husband Drew (Ron Livingston) works hard to keep the family afloat and when he comes home at the end of a long day he takes some time to spend with their eight-year-old daughter Sarah (Lia Frankland) and her younger brother Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica), a special needs child prone to temper tantrums.
It’s obvious that Marlo is suffering from depression and while Drew seems attentive to her condition by asking the obligatory “Are you doing alright?” every night before they tuck in, you get the feeling that he’s not very sincere as he puts on headphones, whips out the game controller, and spends the rest of the evening playing video games. Drew is a good father but a clueless husband.
Soon the baby comes and with it nursing, 4am feedings, and diaper changes. The breast pump and diaper genie become Marlo’s best friends as she begins to sink into postpartum depression. Theron is spot on with her performance, you can feel her anguish as she’s pushed to the brink of a nervous breakdown due to the lack of sleep, her daily struggles with the newborn, and Jonah’s constant struggles with kindergarten. Everyone seems to be avoiding the word “autism” including Laurie, Jonah’s principal (Gameela Wright) who calls Marlo’s son “quirky” and suggests he may be better off attending a different school. Laurie also gives Marlo the option of a teacher aide that could work one-on-one with her son and for a second Marlo becomes hopeful until she finds out that she would have to foot the bill for the classroom helper.
Mark Duplass enters the film as Marlo’s rich brother Craig who is responsible for getting Jonah into the exclusive prep school (thanks to a generous donation). He sees how Marlo is struggling with the kids, so he offers the services of a night nanny as a gift. At first Marlo declines any further assistance from her brother but eventually, she gives in and calls Tully (Mackenzie Davis), a 26-year old free-spirit who is best described as a pixie version of Mary Poppins. When she arrives at the home for the first time Marlo is greeted by a big smile followed by “I’m here to take care of you” as Tully begins to give Marlo back her life.
So, what’s the catch? Of course, I won’t say but with Reitman and Cody behind the wheel, you can bet there are a few surprises along the way. Tully goes above and beyond the call of duty even jump-starting Marlo’s sex life by putting on a waitress uniform and jumping into bed with Drew as Marlo supervises all the action. When the kids need cupcakes for school Marlo wakes up to find a batch sitting on the kitchen table ready to go. This is not your average night nanny and “Tully” is not an average film.
Davis, who appeared in last year’s “Blade Runner 2049,” is exceptional in the role and a real treat to watch opposite Theron. Both actresses fire on all cylinders so you should see the film for their performances. “Tully” feels like the natural progression of a Reitman-Cody trilogy. It’s the grownup version of “Juno” and the mature version of “Young Adult,” perhaps less biting but very funny.
The film’s third act ventures into darker territory, a welcomed surprise, which leads to an ending that left me unsatisfied. Reitman doesn’t end “Tully” on an ambiguous note yet the resolution I sought never materialized.