For a re­view of “Tully,”

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Screen­writer Di­ablo Cody won an Os­car for her de­but screen­play for “Juno,” di­rected by Ja­son Reit­man, and firmly estab­lished her unique voice — sar­cas­tic, smart and ref­er­en­tial, a sin­gu­lar blend of self-dep­re­ca­tion and su­pe­ri­or­ity. With Reit­man, Cody has ex­plored the outer ranges and growth of this voice across the var­i­ous stages of life, from the young, snarky preg­nant teen Juno, to the sin­gle, em­bit­tered nov­el­ist re­turn­ing to her home­town in “Young Adult,” and now to an ex­hausted, mid­dle-aged mother in “Tully.”

Char­l­ize Theron, who de­liv­ered the barbs of “Young Adult” with such flair, com­pletes the artis­tic tri­fecta with Reit­man and Cody once again in “Tully,” play­ing Marlo, the heav­ily preg­nant mother of two just try­ing to get through the day in­tact. Al­ready fraz­zled, things are look­ing bleak for the ar­rival of her third child, with her trou­bled kinder­gart­ner Jonah, her pas­sive hus­band, Drew (Ron Liv­ingston), and os­ten­ta­tiously wealthy brother, Craig (Mark Du­plass). Marlo gets through the day with a for­ward-fac­ing smile that turns into a de­ri­sive sneer be­hind closed doors, but that care­ful bal­ance is about to be thrown en­tirely off.

Craig’s baby gift to her, pre­sented in his home tiki bar, is the ser­vices of a night nanny, which Marlo re­buffs. She claims she doesn’t want a stranger bond­ing with her new­born in the mid­dle of the night, but the cy­cle of feed­ing, pump­ing, di­a­per­ing and home­mak­ing (frozen pizza and mi­crowaved broc­coli) is bru­tally pun­ish­ing. Af­ter a par­tic­u­larly rough day deal­ing with school ad­min­is­tra­tion, who’d like the fam­ily to hire an aide for Jonah, she cracks and digs up the num­ber.

Tully (Macken­zie Davis), the nanny, ar­rives on her doorstep at night, a brighteyed font of girl­ish awe and won­der, spout­ing fun facts and pos­i­tive vibes, sport­ing a taut, 20-some­thing body, tak­ing the baby off her hands, let­ting Marlo sleep, clean­ing the house and bak­ing cup­cakes.

“I’m here to take care of you,” she said. “You can’t fix the parts with­out treat­ing the whole.”

Through Tully, the drown­ing Marlo works her way to the sur­face to catch a gasp of air. She’s a drown­ing wo­man, and Tully is the mer­maid who res­cues her from the crush­ing pres­sure she’s un­der. Turns out out­sourc­ing half the ma­ter­nal du­ties is the key to hap­pi­ness and health.

The film ex­plores the taboo of modern cul­ture around the idea of “hired help” — Jonah’s class­room aide, Marlo’s fa­vorite show “Gigo­los.” Is there any­thing wrong with pay­ing for as­sis­tance, or does it re­veal a crack in the il­lu­sion of per­fec­tion?

In “Tully” there’s a true sense of flow among the col­lab­o­ra­tors, de­spite the dark ma­te­rial. Theron em­bod­ies Cody’s voice with ease and aplomb, mak­ing clever quips sound or­ganic to her specif­i­cally caus­tic per­son­al­ity. But Cody’s writ­ing is re­strained and ef­fi­cient — it says a lot with a lit­tle, sug­gests but never over­ex­plains. Reit­man cre­ates a re­al­is­ti­cally drab enough world to re­flect Marlo’s dark re­al­ity, with a clut­tered, out-of-date house, edit­ing to­gether mon­tages of end­less feed­ings and ter­ri­fy­ing dream se­quences and hal­lu­ci­na­tions. The film looks ex­actly like the in­side of Marlo’s mind, just as her ex­te­rior ap­pear­ance re­flects her in­ter­nal strug­gle.

“Tully” slowly re­veals it­self to the au­di­ence as a far more psy­cho­log­i­cally com­plex tale than sim­ply “wo­man hires a nanny.” Marlo is strug­gling with her iden­tity as a mother, with the idea of nor­malcy as a gift to her chil­dren bump­ing up against the strug­gling mun­dan­ity of her subur­ban life. It’s an emo­tion­ally deep yet con­cise ru­mi­na­tion on the na­ture of modern mother­hood, on the in­her­ently false premise of do­ing it all, of hav­ing it all and mak­ing it look good. “Tully” shat­ters that no­tion, pre­sent­ing mother­hood in all its gross and glo­ri­ous strug­gle, and as­serts the idea that we all need a lit­tle help some­times, in what­ever form that takes.

“Tully,” a Fo­cus Fea­tures re­lease, is rated R for lan­guage and some sex­u­al­ity/ nu­dity. Run­ning time: 96 min­utes.



The no­tion of Ruth Bader Gins­burg, the diminu­tive and soft-spo­ken Supreme Court jus­tice, as a ju­di­cial “rock star” — at least in the eyes of pro­gres­sives who love her sharply worded dis­sents to opin­ions ren­dered by the in­creas­ingly con­ser­va­tive court — may seem a strange one. But the lively and thor­ough pro­file painted of her by the doc­u­men­tary “RBG,” in which she is de­scribed in just those terms, makes a per­sua­sive ar­gu­ment for that char­ac­ter­i­za­tion. Now 85, Gins­burg is viewed by lib­er­als, anx­ious about her ad­vanced age and the right­ward drift of the court, as a cham­pion of the left, a bas­tion of re­sis­tance whose ab­sence will be a loss for progress.

Gins­burg, for her part, says she has no im­me­di­ate plans to re­tire. And, when asked whether she re­grets not hav­ing stepped down while Pres­i­dent Barack Obama still had the chance to nom­i­nate a re­place­ment, she says only that she has al­ways be­lieved that she should stay on as long as she is able. And is she able? What about the in­fa­mous footage of her seem­ing to drift off dur­ing the 2015 State of the Union ad­dress?

Cue the shots of Gins­burg do­ing push-ups.

Di­rec­tors Julie Co­hen and Betsy West mark the 25th an­niver­sary of Gins­burg’s high court con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing by in­clud­ing ex­cerpts from that 1993 Se­nate grilling, along with snip­pets of a 2017 panel dis­cus­sion mod­er­ated by Nina Toten­berg of NPR and more re­cent in­ter­views. These rather con­ven­tional doc­u­men­tary com­po­nents are sup­ple­mented by talk­ing­head in­ter­views with col­leagues and friends, footage of her work­ing out with her per­sonal trainer and, most in­ter­est­ingly, archival au­dio from some of the cases that Gins­burg ar­gued, as an at­tor­ney, be­fore the Supreme Court.

Madame Jus­tice, of course, would prob­a­bly po­litely but firmly dis­pute that she is, in any way, an icon of cool, as she does while watch­ing — on cam­era, for the first time — Kate McKin­non’s im­per­son­ation of her on SNL. Gig­gling adorably at the ac­tress’s “Week­end Update” im­pres­sion as the trash-talk­ing “No­to­ri­ous RBG,” Gins­burg ad­mits to the skit be­ing very funny, even as she takes pains to point out that she is, in real life, ab­so­lutely noth­ing like that.

“I tend to be rather sober,” she said, with char­ac­ter­is­tic un­der­state­ment, not­ing that her per­son­al­ity is in sharp con­trast to the more joc­u­lar na­ture of her late hus­band, Marty (and even some of her seem­ingly staid col­leagues).

De­spite her biting le­gal writ­ing, she comes across, on cam­era, as un­fail­ingly mild­man­nered, deco­rous and po­lite, espe­cially when the film ex­plores her rather un­likely friend­ship, based on a shared love of opera, with her late con­ser­va­tive col­league An­tonin Scalia.

Rather than fo­cus­ing on per­son­al­ity, how­ever, the bulk of “RBG” has to do with its sub­ject’s life­long fight against gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion — a fight pressed over many years, many cases and, in most in­stances, de­liv­er­ing only in­cre­men­tal change. One of Gins­burg’s early mile­stones as a lit­i­ga­tor was a 1973 ap­pear­ance be­fore the Supreme Court in which Gins­burg ar­gued, iron­i­cally, not on be­half of a wo­man, but a man: Air Force Lieu­tenant Shar­ron Fron­tiero had sought the same spousal ben­e­fits — for her hus­band — as a male ser­vice­mem­ber would get. By strik­ing this strate­gic blow for men’s rights, Gins­burg helped push the door open, if only a crack, to gen­der-blind poli­cies that would ul­ti­mately get women one step closer to a level play­ing field.

To­gether with the newly re­leased doc­u­men­tary “The Judge,” a pro­file of the first wo­man to be ap­pointed to an Is­lamic sharia court, “RBG” shines a strong, clear spot­light on fe­male ju­rists who are out to change the world, one small step at a time.

“RBG,” a Mag­no­lia Pic­tures re­lease, is rated PG for some ma­ture the­matic ma­te­rial and strong lan­guage. Run­ning time: 97 min­utes.


Supreme Court Jus­tice Ruth Bader Gins­burg is the sub­ject of the doc­u­men­tary “RBG.”

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