“Mom, what’s wrong with your body?” cries Sarah (Lia Frankland) as her mother, Marlo (Charlize Theron), flops into a chair at the breakfast table. Marlo just had her third kid and, after another sleepless night, admittedly looks a little worse for wear—adding to that, she’s opted to go sans shirt for this particular family meal. Tully, Jason Reitman’s new film about the trials of baby-rearing, doesn’t shy away from the physical toll of having a new kid in the house. But it’s less worried about Marlo’s body than it is about her mind.
Tully was scripted by the Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody (who collaborated with Reitman on Juno and Young Adult); she’s said the film touches on her own experience with postpartum depression after the birth of her third child. In its first act, the movie presents that situation with stark simplicity. Nothing’s outwardly wrong—Marlo’s new child is healthy, and her husband, Drew (Ron Livingston), is supportive, if a bit distant—but Marlo feels isolated even when she’s around other people, wandering around in a daze, performing her parenting duties on autopilot, and generally fraying at the edges. That is, until Tully shows up.
Tully (Mackenzie Davis) is a night nanny hired by Marlo’s rich brother Craig (Mark Duplass); she’s a sprightly 20-something who arrives in the evening to watch over the baby so that Marlo can sleep. Beyond that, though, she’s a genuine breath of fresh air, a person unbound by all of the commitments—parenthood, matrimony, a dull career—that clearly weigh on Marlo. Tully is the title character of the film, and she’s the spark of energy that makes it go, but she’s also a puzzle the movie spends its whole running time trying to solve. The answer (which is provided in the movie’s closing minutes) may not work for everyone, though I’ll say this: It’s undeniably daring stuff.