Directed by Jason Reitman
Released in 2018
It is impossible for me to know the toll that is inflicted in the process of becoming a mother. I witnessed my wife heroically take on that task and marveled at her resilience, heart and perseverance. But I was most certainly on the outside looking in on something so beautiful and exhausting that it aroused both feelings of jealousy and relief at the fact that I am not able to partake in that particular experience. Tully is a film that expresses that experience in a new way for me personally that is at once relatable, and revelatory.
Upon seeing the first trailer for the film and having seen and enjoyed the previous films of Jason Reitman, I was completely expecting a comedy with very real dramatic underpinnings; something that wasn’t interested in simply skimming across the surface of a subject both serious and funny, but more something that was willing to deal head on with both the humor and intricacies of motherhood. Honestly, I was expecting a nice date night movie. What I found Tully to be in the end, however, was a visceral and enjoyably uncomfortable look at motherhood. Yes, it has some very comedic moments, but they are drenched in melancholy to the degree that it could easily warrant a laugh or tears, or maybe even both at times.
The success of the film lies largely in the script’s head first plunge into the gray. This is not the glory of motherhood, and it is. This is not the depressing swamp that is getting up every several hours to appease a newborn, and it is. It is actually very easy to see why this film has garnered so many mixed reviews. It’s unflinching and awkwardly poignant. It brings up feelings and emotions that most of us are much happier swallowing and forgetting. Charlize Theron holds all of this complexity in her eyes for the complete duration of the film. In one look she is able to express the joy, pain, sorrow, exhaustion, jealousy, elation and pride of being a mother not only to a newborn but to two other children who are themselves anything but archetypal.
It is difficult to watch a movie with this density of complexity and I can only imagine that it is much harder to produce a script like this one from Diablo Cody. Reitman’s direction adds a level of surrealism that is necessary to capture something so extraordinary that it is hard to believe that it exists on such a common level, yet is so hard to pin down. I have read many who have their issues with these aspects of the film and I think, while they are warranted, they also do the film credit by keeping everything at an arm’s length just to further state, “You can’t know exactly how this feels.” Theron’s character, Marlo, doesn’t truly know how to express how it feels, nor does anyone else in the film, nor does anyone watching. It also spends little time explaining itself, not feeling the pressure to connect all the dots but just to get from point A to point B. The idea of simply coping without trying to make sense of everything is a large component to the film.
Another compelling aspect of the film is its focus on the idea of belonging and acceptance. Marlo’s brother and sister in law live in a very different world than Marlo and her husband, Drew. The fact that neither family feels accepted by the other is constantly reinforced and even exaggerated when it comes to Marlo’s son’s school. We see brief moments of marginalized characters being accepted for who they are with no conditions or pressure and it creates some of the film’s most powerful moments. Clearly, Cody is expressing the alienation that occurs not only in adolescence but even on into adulthood, worsening when your own children begin experiencing their own forms of alienation.
Tully is a roaring success although I fully expect it to be placed well behind the likes of Juno and Up in the Air simply due to its inaccessibility. I suppose it is fitting though that such a challenging experience would warrant a challenging film. Watching this alongside my wife was a powerful and rewarding experience and I am grateful to have had a chance to take a step into her world.