Directed by Jason Reitman and written by Diablo Cody, Tully follows a mother of two (Charlize Theron) who is about to have her third child. Overwhelmed and desperate, she accepts the offer of a “night nanny” from her wealthy brother (Mark Duplass). Tully (Mackenzie Davis) is sharp, sexy and slickly efficient, looking after the baby while Marlo and her husband (Ron Livingston) sleep. Hesitant to the extravagance at first, Marlo comes to form a unique bond with the Tully, leading her to wonder: where’s the catch?
Please note: Only read this review if you have seen the film already, as I do spoil the film’s ending!
The third collaboration between director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody (after the successful Juno and Young Adult), Tully is an immensely raw drama about the struggles of becoming a mother. Rightfully so, the film has been praised for the unique and honest approach it has taken to one of the biggest changes that a woman can go through, a change that nothing can prepare you for. I’m still holding on to the hope of being young and skinny again one day. It’s not going to happen, but it might take a bike ride through the city with a friend named Tully to help me get over that one day.
For a 96-minute film, Tully says so much in its relatively short run-time. But it’s difficult to understand why this film has been seen as such a breakthrough when this is a film about exactly what motherhood is like. With the tagline “See how the mother half lives”, it surprises me that this is the first film (that I have ever seen, at least) that explores motherhood so well. Because it’s definitely not a modern-day experience of a mother’s day-to-day life. This is how it is. This is how it has probably always been. It’s just a side that most people don’t get to see: the loneliness at home, the sleepless nights, the literal crying over spilt milk, the lack of adult conversation and the loss of one’s identity.
It’s the kind of thing you don’t believe about until you’ve gone through it yourself, the constant struggles that not even your husband will recognise you going through despite him being there for half of the time (Luckily mine doesn’t play videogame otherwise I would not have coped, although he will likely start after two more babies!). When you’re pregnant, you often find people warning you of some of the lows you can experience when having a newborn, but you would just shrug it off and think “But through all of that, I will have a cute little baby to love and look after so I don’t care about anything else!” And mostly, that’s true. But you can never imagine just how much having a baby takes over every single aspect of your life.
Maybe it’s because it’s only more recently that women are feeling more comfortable to talk about the struggles of becoming a mother, and that the “taboo” subjects of things such as postnatal depression and loneliness are finally being more acceptable to admit to experiencing. But it’s not just the mental side of things, it’s also just the image of a woman breastfeeding that we rarely get to see. This is another reason why Tully has been so highly praised. We see Theron’s character using a breast pump, storing her milk in the freezer, waking up for night feeds, and the unescapable leakages in public. We’re still living in a world where breastfeeding is often looked down on, but also where there is very little support given to women who are forced to give up breastfeeding because we aren’t made aware beforehand of just how difficult it can be.
But I won’t go into that. I’m just happy to see a film treat breastfeeding as it: the most natural thing in the world. It’s something that we shouldn’t be surprised to see happening in a film, but until more films show it and the more people become more accepting of it, we have to praise the films and people who do “dare” to treat it as the norm. Personally, I can’t wait for the day when we see a woman breastfeeding and think absolutely nothing of it, because we shouldn’t have to make a deal about it. Fed is best and all of that, but nobody takes a second look at a woman feeding her baby with a bottle, do they?
I’ve read people describe this film as dream-like or like an adult fairytale, most likely because of the film’s twist at the end. But there’s nothing dream-like about it; far from it, in fact. This actually happens (on some level, at least). Firstly, there’s definitely no dreaming involved because of the lack of a chance to dream in the first place. But I wouldn’t have believed a story like this if I hadn’t experienced it myself. During the first year of having my little boy, I imagined the strangest of things because of the levels of exhaustion I was feeling. My hallucinations were only ever in my head (One time I believed that I was Daenerys Targaryen and I was stressing myself out because I didn’t know how to handle three dragons), so I never went to the extremes that Marlo does. But still, I completely relate to this film having experienced something similar before, whereas I would have thought that it was nonsense if I had watched this before becoming a mother.
I’ve also read comments saying how useless the men are in this film. Again, if I had watched this film before having a child, I would have thought, “I wouldn’t put up with my husband behaving like that!” But, having had the experiences I have, I don’t think that Marlo’s husband actually can actually be faulted here. Sure, he needed to spend more time with the family and less time looking at the TV, but men just don’t go through the same things that a woman does during this time in their lives. And I don’t mean that as a dig at men, I just think that it would be silly for a woman to assume that anyone else (other females included) could even begin to understand what’s going on in their head during the early stages of motherhood, because there’s so much that a woman doesn’t understand herself.
Only a mother will have experienced this level of tiredness, but it’s not just the lack of sleep that comes as a shock, but it’s also all of the realisations that nothing will ever be the same again. All too often I found myself plodding through the week like Marlo does, thinking that I’ve made my way through everything just fine. It’s not until you get a good week’s worth of sleep that you wonder how you managed to do any of it in the first place. I think only a mother will watch this film and think “Yep, that’s just how it is” and not have a problem with the husband lying in bed and doing nothing. You just get on with it. As a fairly new mother, I just think, “The poor guy has absolutely no idea of what’s going on” because that’s exactly how Marlo will have made everything appear.
So, yes. This is a film for mothers. It is these viewers who will find this film so comforting and deeply emotional to watch, seeing a character go through something that every mother has experienced on some level for themselves. I don’t know how other people will feel about this film, but all I can say is that we need more films like Tully. We need these all too common mental struggles to be made more publicly aware of and recognisable, not only to encourage people about how normal it is for things to feel so overwhelming for a little while, but also to make it easier for women to connect to others going through the same thing. Motherhood doesn’t need sugarcoating; the realities of it just need to be explored better so that we can share the load and not have to invent a Tully of our own to get through the day.