Just in time for Mother’s Day comes Tully, starring a firing-on-all-cylinders Charlize Theron as Marlo, a wife and mom of three, including a newborn. She’s about to come apart at the seams, and you’re about to say that you’ve seen this before. Think again.
Director Jason Reitman is guided at every turn by a deftly comic but deeply felt script from writer Diablo Cody – it’s their third coloration after Juno and Young Adult – that keeps throwing a monkey wrench at our expectations. The movie is too probing, too attuned to the frayed edges of personality to serve as comfort food for overworked matriarchs. And Marlo is definitely a woman on the verge of a meltdown – not that her husband, Drew (Ron Livingston), has any clue about what’s eating at his wife. While he’s busy elsewhere trying to save his business, she mostly neglects her older daughter (Lia Frankland) to take care of her son (Asher Miles Fallica), whose acting-out behavior suggests special needs she’d rather ignore. Now with a baby requiring constant attention, Marlo is heading past post-partum to point-of-no-return desperation.
Enter Tully (a stellar Mackenzie Davis) – and not a moment too soon. She’s a night nanny hired by Marlo’s money-to-burn brother (Mark Duplass), to relieve his sister’s burden.Tully is only 26, but she seems to anticipate her new client’s every need. It’s Tully who gets up at night to care for the baby, only requiring Marlo for breast feeding. If the kids need a mom to bake cupcakes for school, Tully makes sure the goodies are freshly baked and ready to roll. If Mom has issues with baby weight she can’t lose or a sex drive she can’t spark back to life, Tully offers advice that’s more intelligent than irritating. (“She’ll grow a little overnight,” the helper says of the newborn. “And so will we.”) Marlo is skeptical, at first: “You’re like a book of fun facts for unpopular fourth graders.” It’s Tully’s emergence as a friend who flirts, provokes and asks the hard questions, however, that makes her indispensable.
It’s an impossible part, yet this millennial Mary Poppins jumps off the screen with vivacity and wit, in no small part to Cody’s writing – she has a knack for going past the quips to to where the pain lies. And Davis gives an absolutely electrifying performance that lends the movie a kick of outrageous originality. This Canadian actress, so good in Halt and Catch Fire and one of the best episodes ever of Black Mirror (“San Junipero”) takes it to the next level, suggesting even more exciting things to come. Both actresses sync up with amazing grace, almost breathing as one. When the film takes a sharp turn and veers off-course in its final third, you hold on because Davis and Theron make sure you do. Together these two dynamite actresses cut to the soulful core of a movie that turns out to be funny, touching and vital.