Charlize Theron shines, as usual, in Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman's new film Tully. It is a daring choice to cast one of the most stunning women in cinema as a bleary-eyed, pudgy, exhausted mother who hardly ever gets any recognition for her efforts in raising two kids, soon to be three as the film opens. The film also takes a daring choice in a third act twist. That doesn't fair as well.
Back to Theron, she plays Marlo. Marlo lives in the suburbs of New Jersey where she tries her best. Married to a schlub of a husband (Ron Livingston), her existence is tied to here children. Her daughter Sarah (Lia Frankland) is fairly independent. Her song Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica) is another story. Many describe him as "quirky" but it seems more like he is undiagnosed as having some form of Aspergers. Adding a third child to the family seems to threaten to break Marlo, who is already so overwhelmed that she is barely able to make through each day.
At a dinner at her wealthy brother's place (Mark Duplass), he suggests that she use a night nurse that he will pay for. Initially, Marlo cannot stomach the thought of having help from anyone. It would be an admittance of not being able to handle everything, of not being the perfect mom. Eventually, she calls the night nanny and Tully (Mackenzie Davis) enters her life, changing everything. In many ways, Tully represents the woman that Marlo wants to be. The film lets us know early that having kids has robbed Marlo of some part of herself.
Theron is the center of the film. She exudes Marlo's ordinary pain and frustration in a way that feels extremely candid. Cody is clearly writing from her own experiences here. In its best moments, Tully takes jabs at the ridiculous societal pressure put on mothers. It isn't enough to make cupcakes for your kids class, they have to be Minion cupcakes that accurately depict the popular children's characters. It also takes jabs at the role of husbands in raising children. Marlo's partner is regularly shown in bed playing video games after she has slaved the day away trying to raise the kids and feed her family.
All of these great elements and performances are almost undone by what feels like ending that retroactively turns the movie into something else. A second viewing may prove that the film telegraphs where it is headed more than I picked up on but I left the initial viewing feeling ambiguous when I had been engaged for most of the film. The tidy ending even feels like a cop-out for something more interesting. I won't spoil the film here but I suggest not seeing it alone as you will want to discuss immediately after the credits roll.