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Review: Tully – “A modern, honest look at motherhood”

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The never-ending diaper changes, the breastfeeding, the pumping, the lack of sleep – all part of the ‘little miracle’ that is a newborn.  There are tender moments, certainly, but that new life also comes with a lot of exhausting work and emotion.  Rare is the film that takes a modern, honest look at motherhood, but Tully does just that.  In the third collaboration between director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno and Young Adult), the relationship between mother and child, as well as mother and self, is realistically portrayed.

Marlo (Charlize Theron) is frazzled – with two young children and a third on the way, she is already having difficulty coping, and understandably so.  Married to a workaholic (Ron Livingston) who just performs the basics with the kids before retreating to his nightly video game, Marlo has little help dealing with their busy household, let alone taking care of herself.  While visiting her well-to-do brother (Mark Duplass), he offers her a gift for the new arrival, a night nurse who will help her through the first nights of the baby being home.  Marlo originally rejects the offer, but after a few weeks of sleepless nights she relents and brings Tully (Mackenzie Davis) into their lives.

It’s not just the nights of sleep she now enjoys that start to awaken her, but also Tully’s optimism and lust for life that injects new energy into Marlo.  Everyone around her notices the change and she notes to her husband that, “It’s like I can see colour again.”  Tully teaches her about self-care in all aspects of her life and with her help, Marlo can finally be the mom that she wants to be, that society expects her to be.   However, watching Marlo’s commendable transformation, you begin to worry about that time when the night nurse’s tenure will come to an end.

No one should be surprised when Oscar winner Charlize Theron puts up a top-notch performance, and you can add Tully to the list of films that sees some of her best work.  Every messy moment Marlo encounters is played out across Theron’s every movement and gesture.  Her frustration is palpable, and her relief upon Tully’s entry into her life is a welcome uplifting moment amongst the chaos.  In fact, its Theron’s scenes with Davis that will allow the audience to derive the most pleasure.  The actors are perfectly matched and have relatable chemistry.

Reitman keeps things simple here in his direction, creating a sense of needed intimacy.  The director is always empathetic towards motherhood and its relentless pressures.  He allows Cody’s script to shine here, her words, as always, often darkly and bitingly humorous, and at times ringing with poignancy.  Case in point, one scene where our protagonists are discussing a situation of emotional turmoil has Tully saying that women heal.  Marlo responds, “Women don’t heal.  We might look fine, but up close we’re all covered in concealer.”  An audience member in my screening actually said out loud, “Great line.”  And it is.  Cody seamlessly manages to produce quotable wisdom without breaking up the realism.

Tully touches on so many aspects of motherhood often glossed over in images of perfectionism in mainstream features.  Issues of mental health and societal expectation are explored as well as the more intimate household imbalance and stresses children can place on a marriage and upon one’s self.  With compelling performances from Theron and Davis, Tully is worth a view, whether you have children, are thinking of having children or aren’t planning to at all.  Everyone will be able to find relatable moments here, because of the film’s unwavering honesty.  Tully isn’t always comfortable to watch, but being a parent isn’t always either, and in realizing this the film effectually manages to capture motherhood for what it is – the hardest job in the world.

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