Motherhood has always fascinated filmmakers through the years, from Rosemary’s Baby to Terms of Endearment, and even the recent Bad Moms. In Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman’s latest collaboration, we get a seldom seen aspect of motherhood.
Tully is a film about Marlo (Charlize Theron) a mother of two and pregnant with a third. We see Marlo struggle with her children; especially her second oldest Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica) who is a special needs kid. Marlo’s husband is present (played by Ron Livingston), and yet Reitman and Cody make him seem like a phantom: there but not really there. When Marlo gives birth to her third child she nears a breaking point of exhaustion and patience. That’s when the miracle Tully (Mackenzie Davis) appears; she is a night nanny supposedly paid by Marlo’s wealthy brother (played by Mark Duplass), she proves to be a Mary Poppins-like savior not only caring for the baby, but for Marlo as well.
The film is very subtle and restrained in the telling of Marlo’s story. We rarely get any wide-shots, and instead stay close to our characters’ faces. Some criticism was aimed at the film, because it essentially deals with post-partum depression, and yet it is not diagnosed specifically in the film. This aspect gives it a greater sense of realism, however, Marlo simply doesn’t have the time to diagnose her psychological problems.
Writer Diablo Cody is able to imbue her film with small details of motherhood that give the film and her characters such a ‘lived-in’ feeling. The characters visibly have backgrounds and histories that are never addressed on screen, but provide an incredible depth to the story. It’s curious that Cody and director Jason Reitman have collaborated three times on films all about motherhood (Juno and Young Adult are the other two); it seems to be a traumatic yet curious facet in human life that both filmmakers are keen to explore, and we as viewers are lucky to look-on.
Charlize Theron goes all out in this film. She gained close to 50 pounds for the role in order to show the unkempt-ness of her character; at one point in the film her son Jonah asks her “what’s wrong with your body mommy?” This surprisingly generated laughs from the audience, and yet I couldn’t help see the tragedy in the scene, as Marlo’s sacrifice to care for her children is destroying her. But Theron’s acting prowess goes beyond her physical transformations, her grasp of the exhaustion yet sense of duty of a mother and wife is so palpable, you forget you’re looking at major movie star sometimes.
In the end, Tully is a beautifully made and compact film about motherhood that doesn’t shy away from difficult topics. The subtlety imbued by Cody and Reitman give the film and its message an added impact about the hard work mothers do, and how as sons and daughters we may never appreciate them as much as they deserve to be.