Marlo (Charlize Theron) is a mother of two, soon to be three, on the verge of breakdown. Desperate for help and to bust out of her rut, she employs the help of the free-spirited Tully (Mackenzie Crook) to nurse the new baby. The two women form an immediate connection, leading Marlo to re-evaluate motherhood.
Director Jason Reitman has a slew of great films to his name, including Thank You for Smoking, Juno, and Up in the Air. The talented director, producer, and writer also has numerous Academy Award nominations and even a Grammy on his resume.
Yet Tully still spills the same fervent, warm energy of a directorial debut, an energy still desperate to show the world the power film has to put us under an emotional spell. The movie certainly delivers on that point, burning like a bonfire for its compact 96 minute run time.
Anxious energy is stitched into every second – the pressures of running a home, trying to placate screaming kids, of rules and order versus and easy compromise. God, wouldn’t it be easier just to give in, if only to get five minutes of quiet? This is how we come to meet our engaging protagonist Marlo. Charlize Theron owns this role – no one else could look so good looking so bad. From the outset, her every movement is a battle, fighting the mundanity and difficulty of managing two children day after day after day. Like waves battering away at a rock, we see Marlo’s occasional flashes of wit and unique character worn away by blank replies from family and personal exhaustion. She’s a woman at the point of collapse who doesn’t even have time for a break.
After Marlo has her newborn (following an excellently rhythmical montage of diaper changing) the movie really kicks up a gear. Fed up and exhausted, she contacts a night nurse. Tully (a mesmerising Mackenzie Crook) shows up, and Marlo’s life slowly starts to turn around.
Screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno, Jennifer’s Body) crafts a fast-paced screenplay with plenty of witty dialogue. Viewers will be in stitches at Marlo’s one-liners and will cringe with every child’s scream. The film’s twist has been lambasted by some: I for one was shocked. Expertly pieced together, the writing takes this film from average to very good. The one flaw is the thinness of the male lead, if you could even say there is one. Ron Livingston is vanilla as Marlo’s husband Drew, while Mark Duplass doesn’t have enough to do as her bougie brother. But maybe that’s not so bad. Theron and Crook so utterly hold our attention in sway that only a longer run time would have saved the men. Motherhood, and womanhood, is deservedly front and centre here – warts and all.
A poignant drama that doesn’t cover the stains of parenthood growing older, the tragic twist really catches you out. Witty, warm, and honest – a great movie. 7.5/10.