Charlize Theron Shines in Motherhood Comedy/Drama


This weekend will belong to The Avengers: Infinity War.  In its second week, it will continue to dominate the global box office, and I am a fan.  None of this should be a surprise.  What might be a surprise to many is that there are other films releasing this weekend, and one in particular is a film that deserves to be seen, and that film is Tully.

From the writer and the director of Juno, and Young Adult, Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody respectfully, Tully pairs both back up with their Young Adult star Charlize Theron.  Charlize is coming off of the recent Gringo, and a couple of other action films with The Fate of the Furious and Atomic Blondeall of which required her to be in much better physical shape than Tully.  So when you watch the film, the stark contrast of Theron adding 50 pounds for this role compared to these other roles are startling and noticeable compared to her last 3 outings.   However the true transformation of Theron for this role in comparison to her action films is not the physical transformation, but the depth that she brings to her character and the subtly in which she portrays the multi-layered complexity that makes up this individual. To sum it up simply: Charlize Theron shines in Tully!

Charlize Theron plays Marlo, a pregnant mother of two who has just gone on maternity leave at her job in human resources to give birth to her third child.  She has a daughter named Sarah (Lia Frankland) who seems to be a child holding everything together, even washing her mother’s hair while Marlo soaks in the tub exhausted.  Her son Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica) is a boy labeled as “quirky” by school administrators.  His parents brush him “like a horse” as a form of sensory therapy, and every indication is that he falls on the Autism spectrum, though Tully, refreshingly, never defines him in terms of a label.

Once their baby, Mia, is born, Marlo finds herself on the exhausting endless loop of being a full-time caregiver, dragging herself out of bed with every baby cry.  Her life becomes a cycle of breastfeeding, pumping, changing diapers, driving kids to school, speaking to their private school’s principal about Jonah’s behavior and the school’s desire to have them take Jonah somewhere else where he can have a full time aide, before arriving back home to throw processed, or frozen, meals at her two kids, before she collapses in a recliner to zone-out watching a reality show called Gigolo, only to start the cycle all over again.

Her husband Drew (Ron Livingston) works all day, comes home to eat, works a little more, before heading to bed where he dons a headset and plays video games “shooting zombies”.  Never do we see him helping out, though he does show concern over his wife’s constantly worn-out state.  Needless to say, there isn’t much time for conversation and romance in their lives.  Theirs is just a mode of existence at the moment, and Marlo is slowly sinking.

Deciding to take up her brother Craig (Mark Duplass) and his wife Elyse (Elaine Tan) on their offer, Marlo and Drew agree to let them give them the gift of a night nanny, a woman who shows up and takes care of the baby all night while the parents sleep, only waking the mom when its time to breastfeed.  This nanny comes in the form of Tully (Mackenzie Davis), a young 20-something woman with boundless energy and inexhaustible optimism who immediately inserts herself into their lives, giving Marlo much needed rest.

Soon Marlo is better rested, putting on make-up and slowly becoming the person her husband, kids, and brother remember.  Tully’s philosophy is to “treat” the family, not just care for the infant, as Marlo and Drew find themselves as beneficiaries of this night nanny’s services.  By the film’s third act, the script upends what you thought you knew, revealing a narrative arc that digs deep to wrestle with the complexity of Marlo’s emotional state while trying to juggle all of the many roles parenthood brings, while trying to hold on her identity as an individual.

Tully is a beautiful coming of age film for every parent who is drowning under the weight of responsibility.  Charlize Theron gives one of the strongest performances of her career, capturing the tension that exists as strong, capable women who are working a career, as well as meeting every need at home, and how they serve as the foundation that the family relies on, while simultaneously buckling under the weight of such expectations and realities that such responsibility brings.  Through her portrayal, we truly feel and understand the duality of finding one’s identity in the thing they cherish most, namely Marlo’s family, while trying to remain the idealistic individualistic person they have always been.

Tully’s true message is that beauty can be found in what we might see as the mundane day-to-day details of our everyday lives.  It is the mundane details we often overlook that serve as the great source of stability that every person needs if they are to spread their wings and soar to greater heights.  This is true, of course, for children, but as Tully demonstrates, it is perhaps more true for those adults who too often find themselves losing their way the further they go on through their life.