"Tully" is a thoughtful, candid and often funny film grounded in real, relatable emotions stirred by motherhood, aging and the stresses of family life.
However, there's much more to the film than that, thanks to the script from "Juno" screenwriter Diablo Cody and another memorable performance from Charlize Theron.
Audiences who give the film a chance will come away with different conclusions about what they saw unfold, but getting there is an engrossing, engaging journey that's anything but stereotypical.
What's it about
Theron plays Marlo, who audiences meet days before she's due to give birth to her third child. She and her husband, Drew (Ron Livingston), already had their hands full with their other two kids, but with the new arrival on the way, they bravely prepare themselves for what they know is coming once they bring the baby home.
Marlo's brother, Craig (Mark Duplass), also knows well the sleepless nights and exhaustion that Marlo's about to face and suggests Marlo get help in the form of a night nanny, someone who can look after the new baby in the wee hours while Mom and Dad get some much-needed sleep.
Marlo dismisses the idea at first, but once she and Drew have little Mia home and Drew is consumed with new responsibilities at work, she reaches the end of her rope pretty quickly. She makes a call, and one night help arrives in the form of Tully (Mackenzie Davis), a young, fresh, relentlessly confident and optimistic woman who, despite her relative age, seems to know exactly what to do to take care of both Mia and her exhausted, emotionally depleted mom.
To Marlo' ssurprise, she forms a close bond with the unconventional Tully, and as that bond grows it proves revelatory for both women. Marlo begins to learn that though she may be experienced at motherhood, she's never completely come to terms with it and all it entails, and Tully's arrival may be the key to at last making that happen.
One for the moms
In many ways, "Tully" is an examination of all that mothers accomplish and endure daily, especially those who have had more than one child. Mothers climb metaphorical mountains every day caring for young children and newborns, and those mountains take a physical and mental toll that's sometimes invisible even to others living under the same roof.
Cody's script, brought to life by Theron and Cody's "Juno" and "Young Adult" collaborator Jason Reitman, keeps that examination from ever feeling rote through honesty and humor. Yes, this may sound like well-worn cinematic territory, but it doesn't play out the way other films about motherhood and its trials sometimes do.
As always, Theron delivers a compelling, committed performance. She carries the film, commanding the screen whether she's delivering a snarky quip or literally screaming in the middle of an emotional meltdown.
She also gets help from terrific on-screen partners, especially Davis, who brings charm, charisma and a palpable sexual energy to her take on Tully. The two together bring to life conversations and exchanges that ring genuine and true, giving the film its emotional core as well as its uniqueness.
All that said, there's an element Cody builds into "Tully" that may prove challenging to some audiences and may throw them out of the narrative completely.
To be fair, that element, like everything else in the film, is well thought out and makes sense when considered within the film's whole. It's just that it may feel at first like it comes out of nowhere, and it's sure to make viewers rethink everything they've just watched unfold.
Should that stop anyone with an interest in the film's subject from seeing "Tully"? Absolutely not -- there's just too much here that will entertain and resonate, too much fine creative work delivered by everyone involved for the film not to be seen.
It's just something to be mindful of, especially if you're watching it and halfway through you start to think you know where it's going.
Starring Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Ron Livingston, Mark Duplass. Directed by Jason Reitman.
Running time: 96 minutes.
Rated R for language and some sexuality/nudity.