Director: Jason Reitman
Screenwriter: Diablo Cody
Runtime: 95 mins.
Australian release date: 10 May 2018
Previewed at: Paramount Pictures Theatrette, Sydney, on 1 May 2018.
Director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody team up again for Tully, a film that can almost be regarded as the third part of a trilogy, after their previous collaborations on Juno and Young Adult (also starring Charlize Theron). Taken together, the three cover important stages in a woman’s life - adolescence, young adulthood and marriage and motherhood.
In Tully, Theron plays a frazzled mother of two, Marlo, who’s about to give birth to her third child. When she does she quickly becomes overwhelmed and thoroughly exhausted. Marlo is 40 and her late pregnancy came as something of a surprise to her. She gets little help from her husband Drew (Ron Livingstone), who is consumed with bringing home the daily bread and spends a lot of time playing computer games when he’s in bed. Her five-year-old son Jonah is a special needs child who his teachers refer to as “quirky” and he’s about to be removed from his kindergarten. Her other child, Sarah, is eight and sweet with her brother but too young to be any real help to mummy. When her rich brother Craig (Mark Duplass), whose life is annoyingly ordered and hassle-free, offers to pay for a night nanny to help her out, his generosity is initially met with ambivalence but, ultimately, Marlo rings the number he’s given her. Tully (Mackenzie Davis) is like a modern-day Mary Poppins, a godsend. She is 26 but looks younger, a free-spirit who brings a sense of calm and optimism back into Marlo’s life, helping her regain her much-needed sleep and a return to normality. You sense that Tully reminds Marlo of her younger self so the women share a lot of time together and inevitably trade a few secrets. One night Tully suggests that they go for a girl’s night out and go clubbing in Marlo’s old neighbourhood, to remind her of a time before the responsibility of motherhood set in and life changed completely. The experience is cathartic and leads to a most surprising resolution.
Cody’s script comes from the heart as the idea came to her after the birth of her third child. “My mission in my career is to write roles for women that I have not seen before,” she explains. “I had never seen a film about postpartum depression. I feel like there are so many feminine experiences that have not been represented in films, so I'm constantly going back to that well.” She adds, “Growing up in Illinois, I’d never heard of night nurses. I thought it was a completely strange idea but kind of brilliant, too. I stubbornly resisted having the night nurse with my eldest child. Resisted with my second child. Third child, I completely swallowed my pride. The night nurse helped me take care of the baby so that I could be rested in the morning for my other kids. And it was revelatory. Because even with help, you’re tired. It was almost shocking how much I fell in love with the night nurse because it felt like she was my saviour.”
Tully initially appears quite pedestrian but kicks in as the relationship between the two women starts to gain strength. Theron has a slightly dowdy presence which couldn’t be more different to her character in last year’s Atomic Blonde and she gained quite a few kilos to play Marlo. Both she and Davis are thoroughly convincing as polar opposites who bond. The film will resonate more for women who have been through the experience of birth but it still holds an interest for those who haven’t. As Theron, herself a mother of two, says, “You don’t have to be a parent to get this.” Diablo Cody’s clever screenplay deftly reveals both the joys and difficulties of motherhood and how it’s not for the faint-hearted but, on a good day, it all seems worth it.