Happy Mother’s Fray

Warning: This review has all the spoilers for Tully!

Kids. Raising ’em ain’t easy. You bathe them, feed them, put ’em in clean clothes and then three or four days later they want you do to it all again.  Learn some self-reliance, people!

In Tully, Charlize Theron plays Marlo, a mom about to have her third kid in 8 years.  The oldest is a daughter doing eight-year-old things, and the (soon to be) middle child is in kindergarten with undiagnosable emotional issues. They’re already taking a toll on Marlo, and it’s alluded to the fact that she had trouble adjusting after the boy was born.

But her story is the story of millions of moms around the world.  Middle income that’s not quite enough to have all the services you’d like.  A home that hasn’t had a truly thorough cleaning in years. Toys everywhere. Not dirty, just messy.

Marlo doesn’t shower everyday. Her kids notice when she wears make-up. Other parents throw themed birthday parties and bake cupcakes for the class. Not a bad mom, just exhausted.

Third Time’s the Charm?

At this point Marlo knows even under the best of circumstances. she’s facing months of interrupted sleep to breast feed, colic, spittle, and even less time to keep her head above water than she has now.  So her brother, who has just one kid and a job no one understands but pays tons of cash, offers the gift of a night nanny. What’s a night nanny? Someone who shows up at bedtime, watches the baby, and lets mama recharge. Skeptical at first, Marlo signs on with her husband, Drew (played by Ron Livingston), giving his full support.

Spoilers Start Now

From the first night that Tully, the night nanny, enters their lives, it feels too good to be true.  First, the husband has no real interest (or at least makes no effort) to go meet Tully.  This is the person who is going to be intimately involved with your child for eight hours a night.

Second, Tully gives the house a cleaning so thorough it looks like they’re ready to list it for sale. Then cupcakes appear.  Tully is a dream. Literally.

Marlo’s depression, fueled by three kids, a job, financial issues, and unrealistic expectations set by herself and society, has her constructing this night world where everyone thinks she’s sleeping, getting her groove back. But in reality she’s living this unreal alternative life.

A Sense of What’s Real

The movie always gives off this Sixth Sense vibe, but it really comes home when Tully (the 26-year-old version of Marlo) suggests they have a drink.  She’s drinking while watching a child and Marlo is still breast-feeding?  It plays against type of what Tully purported herself to be. And the role-playing sex scene with “Tully”? Don’t get us started.

Perhaps director Jason Reitman’s goal was for it to feel disjointed and not-quite-right.  After all, isn’t that what depression is all about? You never feel it taking over you until it’s too late.  You never see it engulfing your friends until it already grips them.

In her sub-subconscious, Marlo knows she can’t keep up the pace of being perfect under the guise of having a night nanny. And that’s when it all comes crashing down.

This is a movie about getting through life. There are no villains. The ‘bad guys’ are the challenges of life. And as heroes in our own movies, it’s all about how we respond to them.

At the end of an hour and a half, you feel for Marlo and the fam, but you don’t feel sorry for them. You relate to their challenges. This is the type of tale that everyone lives in one way or another.

At the end of the day, it’s a common story, told uncommonly well.

The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation

A White Russian. Marlo would be the first to tell you, it’d be easy to slip a little Stoli into  bit of breast milk and get the little monster to chill and let mama catch 20.


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