SATURDAY FILM SCHOOL | 'Tully' Is Not Afraid to Make Motherhood Unglamorous

Charlize Theron is phenomenal as Marlo, an exhausted mother in Tully.

'Tully' Focus Features

Tully shows just how ugly motherhood is.

Charlize Theron gained 30 pounds for her role in Monster, a film about real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos, and it won her an Oscar, some critics lauding the role one of the best performances in cinematic history. In Tully, just in time for Mother's Day, Theron looks the most tired and worn out she's ever appeared in picture before as the ever-exhausted Marlo, a mother of three who has a history of postpartum depression and sleep deprivation. She's not a sex kitten here like in the moderately satisfying action blockbuster, Atomic Blonde; she's a milk machine who eats nachos for dinner and watches Gigolos before bed. Tasty, right?

This is filmic birth control, the disclaimer to womanhood in general—if this is what women really feel like in their mid-thirties, after the kids and husband (and impossible societal standards) have drained the light from their eyes, then yes, feminism and the current rage of most liberal American women is necessary.

Writer Diablo Cody (Juno) nails a particular real-life tone in Tully and director Jason Reitman captures the TV dinner aesthetic of Marlo's house, clothing, and behavior. There's a level of cynicism to Tully, a feminist examination of marriage and the shared emotional and physical labor that's divided amongst Marlo and her good-natured, albeit unhelpful and lazy husband Drew (Ron Livingston). Their bond has suffered a blow, with Marlo too exhausted and depleted to fulfill any type of romantic maintenance between the two. The film never questions why Marlo is solely responsible for rekindling the young twenty-something flair she's lost after three kids—as her husband exudes the same type of lethargy and is shown doing a quarter of the work—but that's what this movie does best: illuminates how women sacrifice their bodies and health for others without questioning their own needs or freedoms in return.

But then there's a warmth to Tully, something that women, mothers, in particular, will undeniably identify with, and it's not the overwhelming exhaustion depicted by Marlo, or postpartum depression, or the envy of women whose bodies are still intact, or the envy of families and mothers who have more financial support—it's the priceless feeling of love, and what love looks like when it nurtures an entire family, an entire network of cells that form separate entities and still remain whole. "Her cells are still inside of you," Tully, played by the perfectly cast Mackenzie Davis, tells Marlo the first night she offers her services as a night nanny, "You are the baby." Tully is about postpartum depression and many women, including childless women, are happy to see a piece of art that finally renders just how extreme and limiting that disease is, but it's also about self-care and the obstacles that keep mothers from acknowledging their own bodies as bodies.

Often comparing herself to a garbage truck, Marlo looks tired in this movie thanks to Theron's committed physical performance. Her body, having carried and delivered three children, looks like putty molded onto a dilapidated sculpture. Stretch marks line her stomach and arms and she walks as if she once broke her back—she smiles, and you're reminded that Charlize Theron is beautiful.

I have a feeling male critics will claim Tully exaggerates the physical labor women undergo to carry children, but, thankfully, plenty of women will defend their experiences, finally expressing just how extreme the physical discomfort is during and after their pregnancies. Tully shows just how ugly motherhood is and, in its final scene, it shows just how beautiful the love that brought those lives into being is, and why, no matter the warnings, horror stories, and future lazy husbands, plenty of women still want and choose to be mothers. And plenty of women will still try to bake cupcakes for the class, clean the house, try to wear makeup in an attempt to feel fresh and new, breastfeed every two hours, pump milk throughout the day, and play sexy waitress for their husband in the span of 24 hours simply because they love and care so much.

POP⚡DUST Score: ⚡⚡⚡⚡⚡

Shaun Harris is a poet, freelance writer, and editor published in avant-garde, feminist journals. Lover of warm-toned makeup palettes, psych-rock, and Hilton Als. Her work has allowed her to copyedit and curate content for various poetry organizations in the NYC area.

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