Theron excels in ‘Tully,’ a barbed, bighearted, brave look at motherhood

Can these two women — the once and future Marlo — coexist?
Charlize Theron stars in "Tully."
Charlize Theron stars in "Tully."

Midway through “Tully” you hear a lovely cover of “You Only Live Twice,” one of the better Bond movie songs, revamped here by Kaitlyn and Mady Dever with intertwined vocals well-suited to a story of women working in harmony.

It’s an inspired use of the tune, originally recorded by Nancy Sinatra in 1967 as a complement to Bond mythmaking at the peak of his appeal, when he was the quintessence of male wish fulfillment. In “Tully,” it expresses female wish fulfillment — that is, if the lady in question is facing 40, raising two kids, one with special needs, and another on the way.

She doesn’t need a license to kill, or an Aston Martin.

She needs a nanny.

And, given the degree of difficulty involved, I’d say she’s entitled. If James Bond rates an army of support personnel for a glamorous mission to Monte Carlo, why not monumentally pregnant Marlo (Charlize Theron), facing a crushing load of domestic and maternal responsibilities?

Where’s her Moneypenny?

Her gadget guy?

Another question: If James Bond had to squeeze the residue of his martinis out through sore nipples, would he drink them at all, shaken or stirred?

Something like the latter actually happens in “Tully,” and I cite it to give you an idea of just how truthfully the movie examines the unglamorous realities of motherhood: Congratulations, mom, you’ve given birth, but you can’t leave the hospital until we stand here and watch your command performance on the toilet.

All of this is presented with an unusual but assured mixture of whimsy, comedy and melancholy by director Jason Reitman, working again with scripter Diablo Cody. They collaborated on “Juno” and “Young Adult,” which also starred Theron. “Tully” combines the best elements of both movies.

It’s barbed, bighearted and brave. The bravery is often embodied by Marlo, who holds on to her sense of humor when life gives her reason not to — her “career” is now a job she holds
for health insurance, she’s bunking with a husband (Ron Livingston) who prefers “Call of Duty” to the call of the wild, a son whose on-the-spectrum tantrums (kicking the seat and screaming while she puts her hand over her ears) sometimes leave Marlo on the side of the road, in tears.

She has a history of postpartum depression, and we can see the lack of conviction in her eyes (a fine performance by Theron) when she puts a hand on her belly and calls her baby “a blessing.” Others call it a “disruption.”

Both can be true, of course, and the movie is good at holding different ideas in its head. One early dinner party, for instance, contrasts Marlo’s growing middle-class desperation (private school for her special-needs son is in jeopardy), with the wealth and ease of her rich brother (Mark Duplass), and while the class jokes hit home, Cody’s script allows Duplass’ character space to be human.

In fact, it’s his offer to pay for a nanny that initiates the movie’s most effective and moving passages. Marlo halfheartedly turns him down but one evening, after the baby arrives, so does a young woman named Tully (Mackenzie Davis), a capable and efficient godsend on the order of Mary Poppins.

Except that Tully (winningly played by Davis) is as flaky and warm as a croissant, and she’s not there to manage children — Tully’s there to take care of Marlo, who in no time is sleeping soundly and waking up to a clean house. There are cupcakes on the counter baked for school, the baby is nursed and happy.

Freed from the stress of duty and the tyranny of judgment, from the pressure of being perfect or at least omnipresent, Marlo comes back to life. And Tully’s New Age-y proclamations about motherhood start to feel meaningful. Marlo remembers there is something magical about it — she dreams of mermaids, and if she’s underwater, she’s no longer drowning.

We hope.

We hope, because there remains in Marlo an ineffable sadness — within her, something is unresolved.

She sees in Tully the young woman she used to be, sees the body she used to possess, the freedom she used to enjoy. This all leads to the two of them out for a night on the town, Marlo revisiting old haunts, remembering her old self — remembering, too, her ideas about the mother she’d hoped to be.

Can these two women — the once and future Marlo — coexist? Well, as somebody once said, you only live twice.


DIRECTOR: Jason Reitman

STARRING: Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Mark Duplass, Asher Miles Fallica, Ron Livingston



RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes

Categories: Entertainment

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