Tully is the second collaboration between director Jason Reitman, writer Diablo Cody and star Charlize Theron. This project is somewhat of a follow-up to Young Adult, which posited Theron as a ghostwriter having trouble being a proper grown-up.

Tully sees Theron as an exhausted mother whose life hasn’t panned out, either. The main difference is that her character, Marlo, is having difficulty accepting her role as a family matriarch, whereas in Young Adult Theron’s Mavis actively avoided responsibility as she was an alcoholic divorcee. Although both concepts are interesting, Tully looks to be a return to form for Cody, who hasn’t caught lighting in a bottle since her Oscar-winning writing for Juno.

That sentiment also rings true for Reitman, although his work as director has been consistently better by comparison. The son of the great Ivan Reitman (Stripes, Ghostbusters), this may his best directing effort since 2009’s Up in the Air.

Besides Theron, Tully co-stars Mackenzie Davis, Mark Duplass and Ron Livingston. Its story centers on Marlo and her everyday struggles as a wife and mother. Things begin with Marlo on maternity leave and expecting any day. With husband Drew (Livingston) out of town for work, nearly all the parenting duties fall on Marlo. She’s there but not all there and it’s obvious she’s yearning for simpler worry-free life. Enter Craig (Duplass), Marlo’s wealthy brother, who offers her an unconventional baby shower gift – a nighttime nanny. Marlo is initially opposes it as she naturally cannot trust a stranger to watch her newborn daughter. But as the overwhelming hands of parenthood squeeze even tighter around Marlo’s throat, she caves and Tully (Davis) appears at the family’s doorstep to deliver more than just babysitting duties. Tully’s affect on Marlo’s life is profound but it’s only a matter of time before the other shoe drops.

One of the biggest reasons to see Tully is Theron. The Oscar-winning actress continues her sublime work and she’s one of the few actors who shifts gears and changes her appearance every time out. Last summer she was in top physical shape, playing a jaded spy in Atomic Blonde. She was praised for her performance as she not only was a convincing spy but she did a lot of her own stunts. Theron was the opposite in Tully – she gained 50 pounds to play the exasperated mom. It was rumored she’d binge on In-N-Out and would sit down to lovely mac & cheese dinners at 2 am. She is nearly unrecognizable, something she’s familiar with (she also transformed herself in Monster, and it won her the Oscar).

Davis is also excellent as Tully. From the trailers one can imagine her as a free spirit and that’s exactly what Davis delivers. That approach can be seen (and is seen by Marlo) as naïve – regardless her bubbly persona breathes new life into a mother who’s barely hanging on. And to add to things, Tully’s trite yet unconventional nanny methods parlays itself into some very interesting and morally-questionable situations. Regardless, the journey both Marlo and Tully take is honest, endearing and emotional.

Tully is a refreshing change of pace since there aren’t many films that tackle motherhood. Moreover, it’s rare that motherhood is depicted with such honesty and whimsy. A lot of that has to do with Cody’s script – she dips into the deep end of the pool and as a result this comedy-drama is more drama than comedy. And although Tully is mostly about mothers and their sometimes banal lifestyles, Reitman and Cody present plenty of themes all viewers can identify with. Throw in a surprising final act and the result is a memorable well-acted feature that speaks to the heart of an often overlooked aspect of family life. With Mother’s Day around the corner, this is a fantastic ode to all mothers.

4 stars out of 5

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