Tully: Lampooning Notions of Perfect Mothers One Sore Boob at a Time

By Kim Hughes

Rating: A

When French author Corinne Maier released No Kids: 40 Good Reasons Not To Have Children about a decade ago, you could feel a tectonic shift happening… and faintly hear sacred cows toppling over. Here was a best-selling author, psychoanalyst, and economist — in other words, the sort of superwoman perennially held up by talk shows and agony columnists as a candidate for Perfect Mother — saying flat out that she regretted having kids. 

Charlize Theron goes fugly... again.

Charlize Theron goes fugly... again.

What’s more, Maier’s book minutely detailed exactly why having kids is a terrible decision, confirming that adverse effects include (but are not limited to) losing touch with your friends, ceasing to have a sex life, watching tens of thousands of dollars drift out the door, and misplacing your personal identity. Yeah, take that to the PTA meeting while wearing a hoop skirt and high heels and holding a tray of freshly baked muffins.

Since then, frank acknowledgement of the downside of motherhood has been fair game in life and in art, from blistering Huffington Post rants to the 2016 comedy Bad Moms. Tully is perhaps the crowning achievement of the “motherhood sucks" movement, if we can call it that, and a clear pop culture line-through from the renegade statements made by Maier. 

It also reunites director Jason Reitman with his ace Juno/Young Adult writing partner Diablo Cody and their Young Adult star Charlize Theron, who long ago learned that fugly can win big at the box office and beyond. A sharper, more visual comedy about the potential horrors of pregnancy and child-rearing is hard to imagine.

When we meet Marlo (Theron), she is on the very cusp of giving birth, and she wears her enormous belly like what is it: an albatross that makes any movement a Herculean effort. In Marlo’s swirl are a young daughter and son, the latter on the spectrum and so, needing particular attention. Marlo’s husband Drew (Ron Livingston) is nice enough, but clearly not attuned to the despair slowly swallowing his wife. 

Not so Craig (Mark Duplass), Marlo’s successful and wealthy brother, who posits that a night nanny — someone to take care of the new baby overnight while mommy gets some sleep — might be just the ticket for his beleaguered and increasingly harried sister. Enter the title character (played by Mackenzie Davis), the very definition of a godsend and, increasingly, a rear-view mirror into Marlo’s carefree pre-children life, when the concept of breast milk suction pumps was kind of eerily funny instead of just plain eerie. 

To say much more would spoil the fun and anyway, the film’s trailer makes clear that the comedic thrust of Tully is to be found in Marlo’s inability to cope with the ceaseless kiddo chaos around her, chaos that is decidedly not unique but rather, basic to motherhood, and thus enshrined (at least until now) in a shiny veneer of virtue and stoic silence. 

Since screening at Sundance, Tully has ruffled some feathers, with Reitman and Cody’s depiction of Marlo’s state of mind — again, to say more would constitute a spoiler — gathering some negative blowback. But as Maier could doubtless tell them, daring to challenge the status quo is tantamount to putting a target on your back. 

That Tully nevertheless tackles its striking reveal unblinkingly gives it enormous dramatic power and that's saying something in a laugh-out-loud comedy. This is one you’ll be talking about for a while, even if (maybe especially if) you actually followed Maier’s advice.

Tully. Directed by Jason Reitman, written by Diablo Cody. Starring Charlize Theron, Ron Livingston, and Mark Duplass. Opens wide May 4.