"One Life For Yourself/And One for Your Dreams"
Tully is probably several years too late to rescue all the girls who decided to have babies after seeing Juno. If that first Diablo Cody/Jason Reitman film was a Hallmark Card to the wonders and romance of bringing a child into the world (without consequences), then Tully is the follow-up that dashes cold water on the idea—motherhood is work. Hard work. And when it comes down to it, the one person who will be running the biological mill will be the woman who bore it and will continue bearing it.
When we meet Marlo (Charlize Theron), she is in her last week of pregnancy and "densely populated"—a "natural hug-buffer," as she describes it. It's the third for Marlo and her husband Drew (Ron Livingston), not planned, but welcome, and Marlo is a bit tense about it: she's worried about her other two kids, Sarah (Lia Frankland), very reserved for a child, and Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica), who might be autistic, but the best officials at school can label it as is "quirky." The constant care of new baby might squeeze out attention needed for the old ones.
Marlo used to be in the human resources department for a company that makes protein bars. His job is a bit more vague—"I audit organizational paths"—and is swamped with work; he's barely around with just enough time to do homework with the kids, eat dinner, and pass out after blasting zombies on the game console. her job is to negotiate the school system for Emma and her special-needs child.
An uncomfortable dinner with Marlo's brother (Mark Duplass) oroduces an idea for Marlo in the form of a gift—after their third child, brother bought his wife a "night-nurse," a nanny who comes at night, takes care of the baby and lets the parents get some much needed sleep. Marlo is horrified at at the idea—nobody's going to invade her house and take care of the most vulnerable family member. She's sure it's going to turn badly—like a "Lifetime" movie where her family turns against her and she ends up walking with a cane.
But, once daughter Mia is born, life turns into a steady stream of changing, feeding, pumping, and collapsing that director Reitman collects in a savage edited sequence that should be known as "The Monotony of Motherhood Montage." She's burning out...fast.
She decides to try the night-nanny idea, and, one night, Tully arrives. And she is something. 26, rail-thin, educated and positive, she immediately bonds with baby Mia and, after some initial reluctance ("She's...weird") with Marlo. "I'm here to take care of you," says Tully, Marlo's confused: "I thought you were going to take care of the baby." "You're the baby," counters Tully.Tully's a whiz—so much energy ("You're like Saudi Arabia," says Marlo. "You have an energy surplus."). In the morning, the house is spotlessly clean. a couple days later, cupcakes are made for Jonah's class.
And there are the late-night talks. While Marlo talks about what she's lost, Tully re-inforces what she has—a family, great kids, no matter how hectic—her life is good. Tully, so young, gives Marlo some much-needed perspective in the whirling monotony. And things are fine—until Tully come sin one night and wants to give Marlo a night out...and announces that she has to leave. This devastates Marlo. "I'm just here to bridge a gap," Tully explains. "It's time to move on."
Tully is a bit of a wonder and a welcome return to Reitman's gifts as a director, taking Cody's scenario and making it relatable and just a bit foreign (and Theron's fearless, shame-less performance is another in her impressive ability to fling off her glamour-puss image for the sake of the role). It is a much-needed antidote to the beatific view of Motherhood as something saintly and more down to Earth in showing just how tough a job it is to be the life-support system to an infant that, frankly, can't do anything for itself without the slavishly unwavering care and maintenance imparted by the parent, in a complete 24 hour cycle. A friend summed it up perfectly—"Having kids is the most miraculous thing...that ever sucked."
That suckage makes up a big part of Tully and the extreme mental and physical demands—the survival of which is its own life-miracle—form the spine of the thing. That it tackles the subject clear-eyed, if kaleidoscopically, and delves into the too-often looked-down-upon subject of post-partum depression, makes it a valuable little manual on children and inner-children and the care of both. If sometimes the narrative logic veers off-kilter a bit once or twice (which will elicit some post-showing kvetching, I'm sure), that's okay; like child-raising, The Big Picture is more important than the occasional lapse, and Tully keeps nurturing the more one thinks about it.