‘Tully’ Review: Charlize Theron Excels as a Mum on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

Tully is about the crushing difficulty of motherhood. Charlize Theron plays Marlo, a mother of two, soon to be three. Receiving little support from her hard-working husband and struggling in particular with her demanding son, she begins to become physically and mentally worn out. Her wealthy brother suggests hiring a night nanny to allow her to sleep. Initially resistant to the idea, her attitudes change when she meets Tully, who is young, free and happy in all the ways that Marlo is not. As the two bond, revelations abound.

Director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody reunite for another earnest and hilarious insight into modern life. Marlo’s routine is portrayed with unsettling authenticity. The film gives an excellent sense of time moving. Reitman also uses dream and fantasy sequences to explore Marlo’s fears and desires. Cody’s script is full of beautiful moments of affecting sadness. Yet the film is ultimately hopeful, indicating that the ability to tolerate an exhausting routine of care is a tremendous strength.

At the centre of all of this is Charlise Theron’s fragile mother Marlo. Theron gives a powerful yet understated performance. She only has one big blow up scene, otherwise manifesting her terrible pain and weariness in sobering looks and flawless body language. Her reluctance to accept moments of relief bespeak a character close to her limit, which has always been where Theron thrives.

Supporting roles are also excellent. Mackenzie Davis continues to impress, here playing the free spirited Tully, who forces Marlo to address all the ways in which she has changed since her youth. She is charismatic and almost other-worldly. Ron Livingston and Mark Duplass are completely believable as the husband and brother respectively. They’re both similar in ways they won’t admit, both mean well but are disappointing in subtle ways.

With its narrative ostensibly about a privileged family buying its way out of one of life’s great chores, there’s a risk of losing sympathy with our beleaguered main character. There is, however, an aspect to the narrative that I daren’t spoil but is surprising and nullifies the issue. It also affords an interesting literal aspect to one of the film’s key themes.

If the film is lacking, it is perhaps in showing the true joys of motherhood that come with the pain. We learn little of Tully’s middle child, her daughter. A few more scenes of her interacting with her children, away from the baby, may have fleshed them out into more than just a burden. But the film is very much about Marlo and her experience. Moments of catharsis still land to great effect.

Tully is a fabulous movie about motherhood that doesn’t shy away from the grime and grind. It’s funny, frightening, relatable and moving. It also finds time to be a little bit fantastical.

4.5 / 5

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