MA­TER­NAL IN­STINCT

The com­plex­i­ties of moth­er­hood are ex­plored in a new film, writes Philippa Hawker

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - Tully

For direc­tor Ja­son Reit­man, his part­ner­ship with screen­writer Di­ablo Cody is a source of plea­sure, won­der and a kind of envy. He’s amazed by the depth, the sur­prises and the speed of her writ­ing, he says. With his new film, Tully, he says, she rang him for a chat and a two-sen­tence pitch about an idea — and the screen­play was in front of him al­most be­fore he knew it. “She writes fast, and it comes out com­pli­cated and ready. She wrote it in about six weeks, she just sits down and does it. It takes me years to write a screen­play. And then she trusts me with it.”

Tully is their third col­lab­o­ra­tion, and the sec­ond time the pair has cre­ated a work in which Char­l­ize Theron plays the lead. Their first film to­gether — his sec­ond fea­ture — was Juno (2007), the sharply ob­served tale of a preg­nant teenager and a cou­ple plan­ning to adopt.

Cody and Reit­man joined forces again for Young Adult (2012), in which Theron plays a com­bat­ive, trou­bled ex-prom queen re­turn­ing to her home town to seek a re­union with her high-school boyfriend, who she re­garded as the love of her life.

Now, in Tully, Theron is Marlo, a woman of 40 about to give birth to her third child. As she pre­pares to go on ma­ter­nity leave, she’s on edge and un­set­tled: she feels judged, and she of­ten is. There are trace el­e­ments of caf­feine in that, a dis­ap­prov­ing woman tells her as she con­sci­en­tiously or­ders a de­caf. She has a melt­down when the prin­ci­pal at the pri­vate kinder­garten sug­gests her volatile young son, Jonah (Asher Miles Fal­lica), might be bet­ter off else­where.

Things only get more fran­tic and un­set­tled af­ter her daugh­ter is born. She’s hav­ing dif­fi­culty keep­ing her equi­lib­rium, un­til she takes ad­van­tage of a sug­ges­tion from her well-heeled brother (Mark Du­plass). He pro­poses she hire a night nanny, a young woman who ar­rives in the mid­dle of the night and helps her — not only with look­ing af­ter her new­born and deal­ing with ex­haus­tion but also with ev­ery con­ceiv­able prob­lem and is­sue. It’s a re­la­tion­ship that be­gins to re­new Marlo’s strength and con­fi­dence; yet there’s more to the young woman, Tully (Macken­zie Davis), than meets the eye.

“Some­thing I love about Di­ablo’s writ­ing is that the macro topic may be some­thing that is tra­di­tional, like preg­nancy or par­ent­hood,” Reit­man says, “but her ap­proach is al­ways un­usual, she’s al­ways find­ing a nu­anced way in, and she’s al­ways in­tro­duc­ing us to a char­ac­ter we have never seen be­fore.”

Cody never writes with spe­cific ac­tors in mind, but Reit­man says it was in­evitable that he would take the screen­play to Theron. “Char­l­ize and I had such good chem­istry mak­ing Young Adult, and I com­pletely adored the process of work­ing with her. All our con­ver­sa­tions are about the right things: all that is said about her be­ing brave is true. She’s fear­less in her ap­proach and her search for au­then­tic­ity and re­al­ism within all the flaws of a char­ac­ter is un­matched by any ac­tor I’ve worked with. And she has a very sneaky sense of hu­mour.”

The film never gives a name to what’s trou­bling Marlo, and it doesn’t ap­pend a la­bel to Jonah and his be­hav­iour.

“What­ever he is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing I think re­ally just acts as a metaphor for all the ways that our chil­dren are im­per­fect,” Reit­man says. “We as par­ents can ap­proach this in one of two ways: we can say, ‘There’s some­thing I need to fix about my chil­dren’; and then there’s another way, that is: ‘I recog­nise the unique dif­fer­ences and flaws in my child that are rem­i­nis­cent of the unique flaws in me, and we’re all com­pli­cated peo­ple.’ Part Macken­zie Davis, left, as Tully and Char­l­ize Theron as Marlo in Tully, top; writer Di­ablo Cody with Theron and direc­tor Ja­son Reit­man, above of Marlo’s jour­ney is to es­cape from the at­ti­tude at the pri­vate school that her son needs to be fixed rather than un­der­stood.” For that mat­ter, he says, this is also true of Marlo: she needs to es­cape from the same as­sump­tions. Cody’s scripts are al­ways about more than their overt sub­ject mat­ter, he says. “With Juno the pre­sump­tion was that the movie was about teen preg­nancy, but you find out that’s just a lo­ca­tion to have a larger con­ver­sa­tion about the mo­ment we grow up, whether you’re a teenager who’s grow­ing up too fast or a 30year-old man who’s not grown up at all, or a 30year-old woman who couldn’t think of her­self as a grown-up un­til she had a child.” Tully is — com­i­cally and in­ci­sively — about the speci­fici­ties of a sit­u­a­tion, but it also deals with a uni­ver­sal malaise, he says. “The pre­sump­tion is that this is a movie about moth­er­hood, but moth­er­hood is a lo­ca­tion where we can have a con­ver­sa­tion about what it feels like to be alone, and how scary it is when you’re only al­lowed to pro­ject to the world the sense that you have your shit to­gether, and that you have an an­swer for ev­ery ques­tion.” opens on Thurs­day.

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