photo: Focus Features
Focus Features
The artistic collaboration between writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman has been fruitful so far. 2007’s Juno yielded a Best Director Oscar nomination for Reitman and an Oscar win for Best Original Screenplay for Cody, and even though 2011’s Young Adult didn’t garner any Oscar love, it still impressed the critics. Now they are back with their third installment in the Cody/Reitman partnership, Tully, an homage to motherhood. We will see how it is received, but, for my money, Tully is just as good as Juno, with all the same heart, humor and humanity.

Charlize Theron is back, after having starred in Young Adult as a bitter and lost woman trying to get her life back on track. In Tully, Charlize plays Marlo, a mother of two about to give birth to her third child. Already exhausted and getting little help from her well-meaning but clueless husband Drew (Ron Livingston), Marlo is burning at both ends and about to have a breakdown, when her equally well-meaning wealthy brother (Mark Duplass) offers to get her a “night nanny,” which is all the rage in his social circles. A night nanny will come to your house at night and take care of the baby while Mom and Dad can get some sleep. Marlo is instantly turned off at the idea of a stranger coming to help her do what she should be able to do herself, but when the stress reaches a crisis level, she relents and agrees to the gift. When Tully (Mackenzie Davis) shows up, she is young, exuberant and warm, and Marlo takes an instant liking to her. After a couple of nights of decent sleep, Marlo is a new woman and admits that Tully may have just saved her life. Not only does she allow Marlo and Drew to get rest, but she inspires Marlo to do all the things she never had any time or energy to do. She not only feels like a better mother, she ends up feeling like a better human. Able to be there more for her husband and two other children (one of which has special needs), Marlo is endlessly grateful.

The bond that develops between Marlo and Tully is what makes Tully so special. Davis has turned out to be the best actress that nobody knows, even though she keeps racking up the credits. I first noticed her in her breakthrough role as Cameron in the little-seen but much-beloved AMC series Halt and Catch Fire. Since then, Davis was in the Emmy Award-winning episode “San Junipero” of Netflix’s Black Mirror series, and delivered strong supporting roles in The Martian and Blade Runner: 2049. Davis is a luminous presence onscreen and her chemistry with Theron is so much fun to watch. But Theron does the heavy lifting here, throwing vanity aside and showing all the honest (and sometimes ugly) sides of motherhood. I could not relate in any way to Marlo’s character, but I still found Theron’s performance to be moving and heartbreaking. If Lady Bird made me want to call my mother, Tully made me want to run to hug her.

While Reitman’s directing is solid and engaging, the real star of Tully is Cody’s screenplay. Her biting wit, clever wordplay and ability to create layered characters that are flawed and textured is her real strength. While some of the one-liners feel contrived, the majority of the story ebbs and flows with perfect rhythm, and the characters are ones you really enjoy spending time with. The real genius of Cody’s script can only be discussed with those who have seen the movie, but, trust me, there is more to Tully than meets the eye and I recommend it whole-heartedly.