The Observer - The New Review - - Film -

(96 mins, 15) Di­rected by Ja­son Reit­man; star­ring Char­l­ize Theron, Macken­zie Davis, Ron Liv­ingston

There are cer­tain truths about new moth­er­hood that are unas­sail­able. Things that lodge them­selves in your psy­che as per­ma­nently as the but­ter­nut squash stain on your last half­way de­cent T-shirt. The bone-deep ex­haus­tion. The un­easy com­bi­na­tion of anx­i­ety and bore­dom. The pres­sure to bring sexy back when it feels like some­one has driven a com­bine har­vester through your nethers. All of which this lat­est col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween writer Di­ablo Cody and di­rec­tor Ja­son Reit­man nails with har­row­ing ac­cu­racy.

It’s not ex­actly new ter­ri­tory. But what makes Tully such a tragi­comic tri­umph com­pared with the brit­tle perk­i­ness of films like I Don’t Know How She Does It (2011) and the go­daw­ful Moth­er­hood (2009) is that the film is not afraid to mine some pretty dark the­matic ter­ri­tory.

This is thanks largely to a tow­er­ing per­for­mance from Char­l­ize Theron as Marlo, mother of three, in­clud­ing a new­born. Theron has per­fected the dead­eyed gaze of a woman who can’t quite work out where moth­erly love ends and Stock­holm syn­drome be­gins. Baby weight and cup­cake panic are tag-team­ing to smother any spark of life she once had. Then Marlo cracks, and calls the night nanny for whom her wealthy brother has paid as a gift.

En­ter mil­len­nial Mary Pop­pins, Tully (Macken­zie Davis), an un­flap­pable free spirit who ef­fort­lessly shoul­ders the bur­den of moth­er­hood. Marlo’s con­nec­tion with her nanny is sud­den and pro­found: Tully is like a win­dow into her own past self.

The wist­ful, some­times melan­cholic tone of this rue­ful ex­am­i­na­tion of par­ent­hood doesn’t blunt the edges of Cody’s acutely per­cep­tive writ­ing. And it is per­haps no co­in­ci­dence that Reit­man, who seemed tonally un­moored with his last two films – Men, Women & Chil­dren and La­bor Day – re­turns to the in­ci­sive form last ex­hib­ited with Young Adult, his pre­vi­ous col­lab­o­ra­tion with Cody and Theron.

Tully is emo­tion­ally com­plex, bleakly funny and only slightly de­press­ing. AP who sud­denly be­lieves that she’s a world-class hot­tie. In ad­dress­ing un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions and low self-es­teem – univer­sal girl angst – the film is well in­ten­tioned. But, like a few too many films churned out of the pre­dom­i­nantly male stu­dio sys­tem and mar­keted to a fe­male au­di­ence, you get a sense that, deep down, it doesn’t have a par­tic­u­larly high opin­ion of women. The char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion is so shal­low, we barely scrape be­low the im­mac­u­lately ap­plied foun­da­tion. Schumer’s char­ac­ter, Re­nee, may be­lieve her­self trans­formed af­ter a head in­jury at a spin class, but the one thing that doesn’t change, be­fore and af­ter the brain trauma, is the char­ac­ter’s weari­some self-ob­ses­sion.

Char­l­ize Theron im­presses in Tully as Marlo, a mother of three strug­gling to re­tain her own iden­tity.

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