Just a few weeks ago, the world watched as Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, left St. Mary’s Hospital with her third baby swaddled in her arms. She stood gracefully alongside her husband, Prince William, wearing full-on makeup, perfectly styled hair and heels.
She posed for the rabid throng of photographers and enthusiastic well-wishers just seven hours after she gave birth.
The character of Marlo (Charlize Theron) in Jason Reitman’s latest comedy, “Tully,” doesn’t buy into unreal expectations like this. Diablo Cody, the screenwriter behind “Juno” and “Young Adult,” serves a number of painful truths about motherhood in her latest collaboration with Reitman.
In “Tully,” which releases Friday, Marlo is about to have her third child, much like Duchess Kate. Unlike the royal family, she is not rich and there aren’t any babysitters around to help with her two other children, a bright girl and a younger boy who likely needs special care. Her husband (Ron Livingston) leaves almost all of the parenting up to Marlo. She reluctantly gives in to her bougie brother’s (Mark Duplass) offer to pay for a night nanny to care for the baby.
In waltzes Tully (Mackenzie Davis), a magical millennial who puts Marlo at ease and lets her regain control of her life.
Reitman and Cody’s movie (and it very much feels like Cody’s film) provides a refreshing, unglamorous look at parenting. Even the hospital scenes after Marlo gives birth are honest about the trouble some new moms may face going to the bathroom and wearing an adult diaper.
You don’t see that level of reality about motherhood often in movies. When you do see childbirth on the screen, these moms will likely also have their hair perfect and face free of splotches or tears. It’s only within the past couple of decades that movies like “Knocked Up” could be candid about the difficulties of childbirth. Even then, it’s usually done for comic effect or for throwaway punchlines complaining about how difficult it is to be a parent.
If mothers appear at all, the movie is often told from the grown-up daughter’s point of view. Think back to the melodrama staples of “Steel Magnolias” or “Terms of Endearment,” both of which deal with mothers trying to care for sick daughters who just want to live their life.
Go further back in movie history, and you’ll find the goodhearted moms who give their children everything – sometimes to their own detriment.
If the movie isn’t dealing with the problems of motherhood straight-on, then that character likely wants a break from their responsibilities. Both “Bridesmaids” and “Girls Trip” feature moms run down by parenting and work. They are just as much of need of an escape as the main character in “Tully.” However, those characters are not usually leading the party unless it’s a movie like “Bad Moms,” which pretty much only exists to protest the pressure to be the perfect mom who’s always at their kids’ school functions and looks constantly impeccable.
“Tully” builds on a number of these archetypes yet manages to hold onto a sense of realism. It’s a dark comedy which finds humor in the relatable trial by fire of parenting. The troubles facing Marlo are the same that face just about every new parent not rich enough to afford around-the-clock nannies. The film radically brings up the need for women to be seen for who they are beyond their caretaking responsibilities. I’m not convinced that would have come from a screenplay written by a man.
The end of “Tully” is a twist I won’t spoil, but it does leave on an ambiguous note. Marlo feels detached from the person she was before she had children, but the movie doesn’t quite close the loop of whether or not she reconciles with her current self. It’s a question all women face when they step further away from former parts of themselves.
As emotional as that journey may be, it’s not always pretty. In “Tully” we get the all-too-rare chance to see it play out on the big screen – mess and all.