Tully Is a Surprising and Brutally Honest Journey of Motherhood

This review contains basic plot details but is largely spoiler-free.

Tully is one mother of a film.

All obvious jokes aside, Jason Reitman’s newest movie is a mature next step for his body of work. Reitman’s previous films—Juno, Up in the Air, and Young Adult, to name a few—are usually about people becoming what they didn’t expect, and Tully is no different. What sets it apart are its grounded, affecting characters and the surprising journey taken by Marlo (Charlize Theron).

Marlo is a mother of two and very pregnant with her third. She and her husband Drew (Ron Livingston) have busy lives, juggling long work hours, their inquisitive daughter Sarah (Lia Frankland), and their son Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica), who has an undiagnosed developmental disorder. Hoping to alleviate their situation, Marlo’s brother Craig (Mark Duplass) offers to hire them a night nanny to take care of their upcoming child. After much consideration, a recommendation from Jonah’s principal that he switch schools, and a beautifully painful montage of the challenges of motherhood, Marlo decides to bring the young, vivacious, and wise night nanny Tully (Mackenzie Davis) on board.

This is a great companion production to Young Adult, which saw Theron playing a lost ghost writer who holds onto the past and can’t close the yearbook; on the other hand, Tully sees Marlo adrift in the present and future. She desperately wants a good and safe existence for her family and puts them before herself. The film shows us the seemingly impossible things moms do every day, through the good times and bad. It understands the minutiae of child caretaking—from spilled breast milk to severe sleep deprivation; from tantrums on the morning commute to frozen pizzas for dinner; from helping with homework to entertaining the humorous questions of a curious daughter. For Marlo to mature and be strong, it takes arduous patience, intense dedication, and—surprising both Marlo and the audience—insights from a 20-something nanny.

Tully can be seen as one of 2018’s definitive forms of cinematic contraception, serving up brutal authenticity in its portrayal of the raw and ugly sides of parenting. Theron’s loving, unhinged, and exhausted performance is one of the best of the year so far, and frequent Reitman collaborator Diablo Cody pens a script that goes to unexpected places and offers a lot of growth for her character. There’s actually a part in the movie where things get a little weird and difficult, but it’s a movie you must have faith in all the way through, as the ending retroactively adds profound revelation and beauty to some of the more questionable scenes.

It’s not a film you’d expect to be spoiler-sensitive, but I’ll say this: I would have preferred to be spoiled on the events of Avengers: Infinity War over Tully after having seen both films. If you haven’t been to Tully yet, go see it with an open, unsullied mind. Experiencing it fresh makes for a mom-mentous occasion.

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