Written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman, “Tully” is a remarkable portrait of new-mother exhaustion, with a soulful, lived-in performance by Charlize Theron.
In the middle of Jason Reitman’s “Tully” is a remarkable portrait of new-mother exhaustion. Margo (Charlize Theron), after quite possibly cinema’s least romanticized depiction of childbirth ever, returns home with her third child to a marathon of duty. Waking up blurs into diaper-changing, which blurs into breast-feeding, which blurs into bouncing, which blurs into crying, and then it all starts again — the harsh-sounding rip of the snaps on the baby’s onesie; the clomp of the diaper-pail lid; Marlo’s dazed, quiet stare, desperate for sleep that never comes. The camera’s up in the middle of all of this; we are, too, and it seems unbearable.
Written by Diablo Cody (“Juno,” “Young Adult”), “Tully” is both ode to motherhood and tart reminder that it isn’t all smiles and sunshine. Marlo, who lives in a believably modest, disorderly house, has an older daughter who’s needing attention, a son who may be autistic, a newborn infant, and a husband (Ron Livingston) who’s pleasant but has a habit of gazing absently at the kids and saying “I thought we weren’t doing screen time?” A night nanny named Tully (Mackenzie Davis), whose services are offered as a gift by Marlo’s wealthy brother (Mark Duplass), seems like the only answer; Marlo initially resists, believing she should be able to do it all, but finally giving in.
And so begins a series of nighttime revelations for Marlo, who’s fascinated by Tully’s youth and earth-mama competence. (The nanny urges Marlo to kiss the baby goodnight; “she’ll be different in the morning.”) While “Tully” goes where you might expect, it takes some unexpected plot paths to get there, not all of which entirely hold up. But it doesn’t matter; the pleasure of this movie is in Cody’s sly barbs (the rich brother-in-law’s wife has a dog named Prosecco, and a kid whose talent-show skill is Pilates) and in Theron’s soulful, lived-in performance. Her Marlo, tough and smart and pushed nearly to the breaking point, is someone we know; maybe someone we were. Theron holds the movie in her hands and gives it to us like a gift; one we accept with joy.
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★★★½ “Tully,” with Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Ron Livingston, Mark Duplass. Directed by Jason Reitman, from a screenplay by Diablo Cody. 95 minutes. Rated R for language and some sexuality/nudity. Opens May 4 at multiple theaters.