If you didn’t know better, you might think the new film “Tully” was made to show how unbelievably depressing it is to have kids, especially three of them. The pregnant star of the piece, Marlo (Charlize Theron), claims that baby No. 3 is, “such a blessing,” but the rote manner in which she says it distresses.
If you last saw Theron in “Atomic Blonde,” the physical contrast between that role and this one is striking — her steely MMA fighter trimness is replaced by a heavier pregnancy and post-partum frame. The vodka slugging and New Wave soundtrack have been scrapped for microwaved nachos and trash TV after she puts the kids to bed.
In addition to her infant Mia, Marlo has the quiet Sarah (Lia Frankland) and the mercurial Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica) a frequently tantrumming kindergartner. His concerned teacher describes him as “quirky” as a holding phrase until he is diagnosed with something more serious.
They’re a handful and Marlo’s husband Drew is little help. Ron Livingston plays the man as a hangdog’s hangdog, a guy whose main obsessions are his tech job and late night video gaming (he dons a headset and everything). He does not appear likely to change his stripes after the birth of his new daughter — this is how Marlo sums up her feelings: “I feel like an abandoned trash barge.”
To focus their anger outward rather than inward, the family goes to visit Marlo’s brother Craig (Mark Duplass) and sister-in-law Elyse (Elaine Tan). The couple is tagged as insufferably rich because they have a matte-finish Mercedes G-Class SUV in the driveway and a dog called Prosecco. And then there’s the fact that they’ve hired a “night nanny” to help Elyse through her first post-pregnancy months.
From the custom-built tiki bar in his home, Craig offers to secure the services of a night nanny for Marlo, too, so she gets some sleep as Mia adjusts to life outside the womb. After getting all the anxious “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle” references out of her system, Marlo eventually selects a nocturnal au pair. Soon Tully (Mackenzie Davis) arrives dispensing bon mots such as, “I’m like Saudi Arabia — I have an energy surplus.”
Tully’s calm competence and indefatigable nature immediately take the edge off the domestic sadness — the two women form a tight bond, never disturbing Drew or the two older kids. Marlo reveals to Tully stuff she hasn’t thought about in years. It turns out that an English lit degree — if it doesn’t lead to a lucrative job in film criticism — can land you in dead end, dull HR work. Marlo’s past is Bushwick and bisexuality, while her present is poopy diapers and post-partum depression in upstate New York.
The work of screenwriter Diablo Cody has always been a mixed bag but here, despite some overreaches, there are great lines. Marlo explains that, in her younger days, she rode every horse on the carousel. Tully asks, “Which one was Drew?” “Drew was the bench.” Sorry Drew.
Thanks to her new best friend, Marlo slumbers so deeply that she swims with dream mermaids in the depths — she seems, as T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock, reluctant to reawaken to her pre-night nanny existence:
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea