The true challenges of being a mother are rarely addressed in movies. On screen, motherhood usually gets portrayed in a heightened comedic or dramatic form. Films that do this may show a ring of truth, but they exaggerate or soften certain elements to achieve their goals.
Tully is not that type of movie. Written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman, it tackles motherhood head-on, with all of its joys, frustrations, and banalities. Marlo (Charlize Theron) is a mother of two, with a third child due very soon. She is in a nice if unspectacular marriage with Drew (Ron Livingston) and lives close to her much more successful brother, Craig (Mark Duplass).
After the baby arrives, Craig offers to pay for a night nanny to lighten the load for Marlo, who is already a ball of stress thanks to emotional issues with her son and Drew's frequent traveling. After some hesitation, she gives in and soon Tully (Mackenzie Davis) arrives on their doorstep. She gives Marlo exactly what she needs: A break from taking care of the new baby, as well as extra perks like cleaning and cooking.
The film confronts the realities of being a mom in different and unexpected ways. Theron forgoes all vanity in the role, letting it all hang out — both literally and metaphorically — to show the toll that motherhood takes on Marlo. When Tully comes to the rescue, the bond the two establish is immediate, something that leads to a few surprising twists and turns.
The film also delves into the psychology of being a mom. On more than one occasion, Marlo breaks down when she has to deal with more stressors than usual. Instead of downplaying the breakdowns or trying to lighten the mood, Reitman and Cody lean into them, making Marlo all the more human in the process.
Theron has long shown a willingness to adapt to all the requirements of a role, and she makes the most of Marlo. Davis is a great complement to her as the free-spirited Tully, giving the film a few bursts of levity when it needs it. Livingston and Duplass are solid as always, but the film is led by the women through and through.
The experience of Marlo in Tully is not necessarily a universal one, but any mom will likely be able to relate to certain situations. The film espouses truths in a unique way, giving it a wisdom that few other films about parenting can claim.