It’s been over a decade since Diablo Cody became a household name with the release of the much-acclaimed Juno. The Oscar-winning writer teamed up with Juno director Jason Reitman for the third time (having also worked together on Young Adult) for Tully, a story of a mother who hires a night-nanny after struggling with motherhood in the wake of her third child’s birth. The film is the second collaboration between Cody, Reitman, and Charlize Theron, and co-stars Mackenzie Davis and Ron Livingston.
Rarely has motherhood been so intimately portrayed as it is in Tully, courtesy of a game-changing performance from Charlize Theron. Marlo is a struggling mother of three trying to balance her time between her two young kids, her newborn, and her marriage to husband Drew (Livingston), leaving little to no time for herself. And as the weight of the new baby dawns on her — especially having suffered through postpartum depression once already — the fragile foundations of her world slowly start to crumble, unbeknownst to most around her.
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Theron plays the role to perfection, accentuating the nuances of a woman who has appears to have given up on herself and her sense of purpose beyond her obligations as a mother. It is a narrative we viewers notice too often, perhaps, but never quite stop to see. In her cynical demeanor (and Theron’s exquisitely-timed comedy), Marlo presents herself as only a shell of who she used to be, but not one so foreign to the viewer that her core is lost. She is very much there without quite being present. And that is what Tully so beautifully excels in: Marlo’s journey to self-discovery, acceptance, and — at the risk of sounding too cheesy — self-love is so subtly delivered in her struggles, first as a human being and then as a mother, that it speaks to and spotlights the true message of the film without smothering the viewer with it: the experience of motherhood in the 21st century, and how it takes away as much as it gives.
Much of this has to do with Cody’s writing, which somehow blends the best of Juno’s innocent let-life-happen-to-you nonchalance and Young Adult’s hopefulness amid harsh realities to deliver characters and a story that are so clearly dear to the writer’s heart. In fact, it is a feat in itself that the writer maintains such a powerful presence in her film, and Cody here is nothing short of a co-star. In its essence, Tully is a film by mothers, for mothers. And while the plot stumbles a bit on the way (that bedroom scene oversteps on something too sacred the film had arrived to by then), the film’s third act culminates in a stunning finale that is gratifying in the warmest and purest of ways for Cody, the viewer, and Marlo.
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Opposite Theron is an equally phenomenal Mackenzie Davis as Tully, a night nanny whose infectious and inviting character reinvigorates a sense of youth in Marlo even she is surprised still persists. The two women slowly form a tight bond that is informed by what one seeks in the other: the naive hopefulness of a 26-year-old only just starting her life on one hand, and the comfort that comes with the constancy of having an established life on the other. The exact antithesis of Marlo, Davis’s free-spirited, vibrant Tully serves as a reminder of both the youthfulness that Marlo had yet not discovered, and the one she’d lost so many years ago. Davis’ performance is anchored by a conflicting sense of maturity and naivety that is natural yet insincere, believing yet complacent, showing a range more impressive than most actresses working today.
Tully invites the viewer to have a look at modern-day parenthood, one that celebrates the mothers both on the screen and off of it. An exercise is reclaiming one’s identity, the film serves as a reminder to try, best we can, to see those around us and be seen by them, but more importantly to find ourselves in who we were, who we are, and — though we sometimes forget — who we can be.