Mother’s Day is here and just like a hot latte and clean yoga pants Tully is here just in time to help us celebrate with a thoughtful, smart and brutally honest story of modern motherhood. However, if you’re looking for a cute, uplifting, Bad Moms style barrel of laughs, Tully might not be for you
Written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman, Tully continues their collaborative work telling stories of strong women facing some tough times. Here, Marlo (Charlize Theron) is a mother stretched thin and stressed over all that motherhood has handed her. Her kindergarten aged son is “quirky” and having trouble in school, her eight year old girl is growing up fast and her husband seems to only be present for a few hours in the evenings. As Marlo prepares to give birth to her third child, her brother offers her a big gift: a night-nanny to help with the newborn. Anyone who’s ever cared for a brand new baby knows it’s a lonely, 24 hour job, especially for a breastfeeding mom, but Marlo is hesitant to let someone besides herself care for her new baby.
Then Tully (Mackenzie Davis) arrives, like a breath of fresh air for Marlo. She’s young, cool, confident and seems to just get Marlo like no one else. Marlo’s world seems so much brighter and easier with Tully in it and her whole family seems to benefit. That’s the rule right, happy wife, happy life? But things aren’t as rosy as they appear and sadly most people don’t realize how much help a new mom needs until she reaches a breaking point.
As I sat in the theater on a rare kid free afternoon with my 31 week fetus kicking away, I laughed, empathized and connected with the harsh realities and parenting imbalances in Marlo’s life. Honestly, if you can’t laugh at it, you’ll cry. Night after night she’s the only one waking up with the new baby, feeding it, changing it, pumping milk. And by day she’s dealing with her kids, their school, the baby and the never-ending housework. Her husband, Drew (Ron Livingston), sleeps at night, goes to work, helps with the kids in the evenings and then plays video games on a damn headset before bed. The shot of him asleep in the middle of the day at the hospital, while Marlo entertains guests after giving birth infuriated me. Honestly, Drew’s not a bad guy, but he would get a swift punch in the nuts if he were my husband.
The little honest details sprinkled throughout the film are made for moms who clearly remember those newborn days. The anxiety of cutting a squirmy baby’s fingernails came back with one swift image. When that fresh bag of breast milk spills over, it cuts like a knife. When she bumps the baby’s car seat-carrier against the door, we feel the guilt. When her daughter asks, “Mom, what’s wrong with your body?” I laughed and looked down at my bulging belly. Been there, done that, got the mesh undies and I’m crazy enough to do it all again.
Charlize Theron lets her character be portrayed in all her raw, postpartum glory. It’s refreshing for those of us who’ve lived this chapter of life. She constantly looks exhausted, physically and emotionally, not a flowery image of motherhood we’re used to seeing. We get a shot of her in that ugly hospital gown with the mesh underwear and huge pad on, an image that might bewilder most men in their 20s. We see chapped nipples and how she’s hooked up to the breast pump. And I swear, my mother owned the exact same robe. Other films seem obligated to sell motherhood; make us marvel at some glowing dolled-up goddess of fertility, laugh at the absurdity of the pain and pretend it’s sexy. But Tully tells it like it is in all its raw, primal, painful glory and I for one am all for it.
Tully leaves the audience with several messages. Spouses and family: take care of that new mom you love. Step it up and take care of that baby, even if you don’t have the breasts to feed it. Moms: take care of yourself and don’t be afraid to ask for help. It can be hard after years of spit-up, sleepless nights and mom jeans, but don’t forget who you used to be. The younger, hopeful, less stretched out you would be proud. And most importantly love yourself for who you are now.
“You’re convinced that you’re this failure, but you actually made your biggest dream come true.”