Kurt Loder Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Tully

Charlize Theron great again in a movie about motherhood with a startling surprise.


Focus Features

Suburban housewife Marlo (Charlize Theron) is living in a hell we don't hear much about at the movies. She loves her two kids, but they're an exhausting handful: Sarah (Lia Frankland) is at a difficult age for girls (she's eight), and her younger brother Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica) seems clearly to be autistic, although everyone tries to be nice about it and refer to him as merely "quirky." Making matters worse, Marlo is pregnant again—as we see when her huge belly precedes her into the opening shot of Tully, a movie filled with raw truths about the maternal condition and with a startling plot twist that suddenly rears up out of the story and transforms everything that came before it.

It's good to see Theron, giving one of her best performances in an exceptional career, reunited with director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody for the first time since the bitingly perceptive Young Adult, a 2011 movie that never got the love it deserved. This one, with its bold treatment of a subject with which half of the moviegoing public will be at least glancingly familiar, should be more appreciatively received.

Marlo lives with her husband Drew (Ron Livingston) in a leafy small town outside of New York City. Drew is a good guy who's away a lot for work and doesn't grasp the depth of his wife's bleary despair. We do, though, as Reitman shows us around their home, a bomb site of kiddie clutter, and later stages a resonant scene in which little Sarah gets a glimpse of her mom's flubbery postnatal torso and asks, "Mom, what's wrong with your body?"

With the baby arrived, Marlo's mental condition worsens. Her wealthy brother Craig (Mark Duplass) offers her a gift: he wants to pay for a "night nanny" to begin an overnight baby-care shift so Marlo can get some sleep. Marlo resists Craig's offer ("This is like a Lifetime movie where the nanny kills the family"), but not for long. In a nerve-scraping scene, we see Marlo and her kids inside the family car. The baby is shrieking and will not be appeased, and Jonah is acting out, furiously kicking the back of the driver's seat in which Marlo is sitting. Something inside her snaps, and she erupts in a howl of anguish. Maybe a night nanny isn't such a bad idea.

One night soon after, Tully (an effervescent Mackenzie Davis) shows up at Marlo's door. She's 26 years old and full of vim and sparkle. "I'm here to help you with everything," she says. Tully's abs, beneath a crop-top tee, are formidably tight (a physical state the 40-ish Marlo remembers from her own receding youth), and she's a fount of lively chatter and obscure knowledge—about barnacles, astronomy, Japanese phrases. ("You're like a book of fun facts for unpopular fourth graders," Marlo says, although fondly.)

The morning after Tully's first tour of duty, Marlo awakes—refreshed for once—to find that Tully has totally tidied up the house. On another morning, she discovers a big batch of fresh-baked cupcakes awaiting her. Soon Marlo, who'd lost all confidence in herself, starts cooking again, and Drew is happy to see the kids aren't eating frozen pizza for dinner anymore. When Marlo actually whips up a pitcher of sangria, Tully says, "See, you are a homemaker."

Tully decides that it's time to deal with a crucial problem in Marlo's marriage—she and Drew no longer have sex. This leads to an eerie scene in which we realize that there's something going on in this movie that hasn't dawned on us yet. Then Tully calls for a road trip: she and Marlo will drive in to Brooklyn to visit some of Marlo's old haunts in younger, happier times. This sounds like a dangerous idea even as it's being proposed.

I'll say no more.

Tully has already drawn objections for its treatment of postpartum depression. Writing at the Website Motherly, midwife Diana Spalding says that what Marlo actually seems to be suffering from is postpartum psychosis—a much more serious affliction. She says the filmmakers "seem not to have consulted with a therapist to ensure that the topic was handled appropriately," and that "in not addressing the fact that Marlo has a postpartum psychosis, the rampant problem of maternal mental health concerns is perpetuated."

Surely it would be good if more people could be made aware of this problem. But is it the duty of movies to do so? If Tully hadn't been made, would we even be talking about it?

NEXT: Students Across the Country Walk Out of School in Defense of Gun Rights

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  1. Suburban housewife Marlo (Charlize Theron) is living in a hell we don’t hear much about at the movies.

    That’s because people don’t go to the movies to learn about other people’s problems. Boo hoo, we all have problems, kid.

    We go to the movies to be entertained. We go to the movies to see Charlize Theron kick people’s ass and look awesome while doing it. Or see great and interesting stories unfurled before our eyes in a competent or, if we’re lucky, in a truly genial, way.

  2. If Tully hadn’t been made, would we even be talking about it?

    Do people need a movie about pushing gerbils up people’s butt holes to start a conversation on animal rights?

    Not everything needs a movie.

    1. That reminds me. Every’s been commenting about how Larry Sharpe is the new guy in the Libertarian Party with a dark complexion.

    2. Reminds me of what I used to tell my clinic staff whenever someone would say “we need a policy on X.” I said we don’t put needles in patients eyes but we hardly need a policy for that.

      1. There is a group of (mostly women) at my office who are legends for this. “We need someone to develop a process for X. There is altogether too much independent thought and simple, individual problem solving going on whenever X arises.” I keep hoping they’ll accidentally fall down an elevator shaft and end our misery.

        1. I keep hoping they’ll accidentally fall down an elevator shaft and end our misery.

          You need a process for that.

    3. I do get so weary of criticisms of films that amount to “I think this films should have bee a two-hour-and-ten-minute lecture on my pet hobbyhorse, despite the fact that such a film would be monumantally tiresome and nobody would see it voluntarily”.

  3. This sounds like a movie that suburban moms will go out in a group to see, then go to someone’s house and drink wine and talk about their own problems until they’re even worse. In other words, the perfect accessory for our times!

  4. I always chuckle when I read about art imitating life. A few years ago, my friend’s baby mama gave birth to their second daughter. He ended up texting me every time she started throwing knives. Eventually, I had to drive down to Central Jersey to assess the situation in person after DYFS took the baby. It would have been better if they could have stayed in North Jersey and worked with their live-in baby sitter, but he’s kind of traditional. Accounts differ, but rumor has it, he thought the baby sitter would be a great second wife to add to the family.

    1. Ain’t that always the way.

  5. I got it!

    Tully is a clone, isn’t she? The brother is rich because he runs a cloning company and Tully is a clone of the mother. I guarantee that’s the secret plot twist.

    1. I’d go see that movie.

      1. With Charlize changeling her inner Amy Schumer? Wood not.

  6. …”a difficult age for girls (she’s eight)”

    You gotta be shit’n me.

    1. In the movies every age is a difficult one for kids…because they’re all child actors

    2. I have 4 sisters and a daughter…a difficult age for girls is around 12-13 and then ends at…well, hmmm. Not sure when it ends.

      Age 8, however, is awesome.

      1. It gets much easier to raise your kids when they hit 26, or when they start raising their own kids and figure out the hell they put you through.

    3. Girls these days are not mature than boys.

  7. Sarah (Lia Frankland) is at a difficult age for girls (she’s eight)

    Yeah, a “difficult time for girls” is more when they hit puberty.

    1. Clearly. I didn’t understand this assertion either. I think the idea is that girls around this age start to question their worth…or something. You can let it pass…

    2. Yeah, a “difficult time for girls” is more when they hit puberty.

      Good to know that the first couple years in their early 20s, when they’re adjusting to the social demands of Rapefest aren’t too taxing.

  8. post-partum psychosis?

    1. Yep. You can look it up….

  9. Suburban housewife Marlo

    Margo‘s mental condition worsens

    You need a proof-reader.


  10. I think I’ve figured out the shocking twist– Marlo is mysteriously replaced with Margo and nobody seems to notice.

    1. You’re actually really close to the mark.

  11. Suburban housewife Marlo (Charlize Theron) is living in a hell we don’t hear much about at the movies.

    Oh, good God, no. Hollywood never has anything to say to us about the hell of middle-class suburban life. American Beauty called. It wants its anti-suburban edginess back.

    1. KL doesn’t get out much.

  12. Tully has already drawn objections for its treatment of postpartum depression. Writing at the Website Motherly, midwife Diana Spalding…says the filmmakers “seem not to have consulted with a therapist to ensure that the topic was handled appropriately”

    Blah blah blah, the endless victim-cult bullshit. “My group of speshl damaged insufferable victimhood snowflakes doesn’t like the way you treated us in your movie. Of course, we don’t make our own damned movies that portray us perfectly; we make nothing but butthurt. We just make you guess when you make the movies, then tell you that you guessed wrong.”

    1. No shit.

      And I want to enjoy my schadenfreude without someone taking me to task for it, too.

  13. I’m a father of five, including one later life “accident” who is now my very beloved 12-year-old daughter. I really wish that popular culture didn’t make parenthood out to be so scary and demoralizing. It’s not. I’ve had problems in my adult life, stresses in my marriage, but the kids have always been what made everything worthwhile. I shudder to think of my life without them.

    1. I have two. The first one wasn’t any preparation for the second one.

      But Amen, they are what’s worthwhile in life.

  14. He says he will say no more, but then goes on to say more.
    For veteran movie watchers like me that is almost enough to figure out what I am not supposed to know.
    Things that make you Hmmm.

  15. Sadly, some idiots ruined the twist for me. Mackenzie Davis and Charlize Theron better at least make out a little.

  16. “Suburban housewife Marlo (Charlize Theron) is living in a hell we don’t hear much about at the movies.”

    I’m curious about the portrayal of the husband. Does he just call her fat and act insensitive the whole time, as in the trailer? Because we see stressed mom’s getting their due all over (and sympathy). What we don’t see is the father’s point of view.

  17. If she has an actual psychosis triggered by giving birth, I have sympathy. But suburban mom with three kids life is a living hell? Why?

    My grandmother was raising TEN kids in the middle of the Great Depression. She put them all to work because she was bossy as hell. Lot less stress that way.

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