Now here’s a fresh angle on the mid-life household: the white-heat days of early parenting. Charlize Theron‘s Marlo and Mark Duplass‘s Craig have made the classic mistake: a third pregnancy after two energetic kids, one with a non-specific issue that needs all-over brushing in a routine set to exhaust before breakfast, lunchboxes, tea, entertainment and just being in the same house as the adorable, self-centred monsters we make. We join them as Marlo is giving birth and staggers into an aftermath, of which the heavy and exhausted Theron makes a masterpiece as Tully.
Remember those early days of exhaustion and terror? And, come the second, the sense that you had to relive the exhaustion and terror whilst running a zoo? Tully captures that with charm and laughs to spare. Theron is mesmerising as the utterly shattered Marlo, losing her sense of self as she slaves in the house, disengages from the pretty-much-already-disengaged Craig, and comes close to defeat at the hands of the newest family screamer. There’s a moment when she is slumped in her sofa, breast pumps doing their thing, babyshocked into a reality-TVed daze, and you want to rush in and rescue her. If only for an hour. Respite is the game.
And then her rich brother offers to stump up for a night nanny. Is that a thing? It wasn’t back when young Steve was pumping out enough black shit to surface a road. American, perhaps. Anyway, up pops Mackenzie Davis as the hippyish, elfin, so-good-there-may-be-a-god Tully. Her gift? Empathy and helpfulness.
This is the heart of the film. Much like Theron’s Marlo, it makes you fall in love with the energy, immediacy, honesty and…yeah, zest of Tully. There’s a sexy edge to her, something that reflects on Marlo’s sadness, perhaps inevitably given her youth. But, ah, that helpfulness. She starts by effectively putting Marlo to bed, bonding with the baby, gifting her sanity over a few telling nights. And we are absolutely on her side, basking in the flighty joy of her reigniting of Theron’s clarity.
And the film could stop there and old Jack here would have been happy. But then Tully becomes faintly magical and starts to sort out the kids, and then, in a moment that feels like it’s going to flip the thing into chaos, helps Marlo re-engage with Craig. And in a properly sexy way…
Old Jack wasn’t expecting what followed, though I suspect you could have worked it out earlier. But the scenes where Tully repairs Marlo by lifting the parenting weight off her back, letting her old personality start to dominate, is the spell that never comes to save any parent ever. So, that makes this a funny, telling fantasy in a number of ways. None of which I want to tell you: if you’re contemplating reproduction, or are several wanteds and mistakes down the road, here be salvation.
Theron is absolutely terrific as Marlo. Davis balances her sense of heaviness with a deftness that makes their occasional child-free escape through the city an absolute, if worrying, delight.
If there’s a message here, I guess it’s that those trapped in the darkness of their middle years should struggle to keep the energy of youth – and old identity – if they are to stay focused, happy or just sane. Old Jack here loved the majority of Tully, and the way it makes this point, albeit the final scenes bound out of sight, somewhat.
Quality film. Lovely performances. Give it a go.