Frazzled, forty-something mum of three Marlo (Charlize Theron) is a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Perpetually exhausted, she’s already struggling as primary caregiver to daughter Sarah (Lia Frankland) and autistic (though constantly described as “quirky”) son Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica), her husband Drew (Ron Livingston) a well-meaning but largely absent doofus. With the arrival of screaming newborn Mia, Marlo is not so much sliding as tumbling into post-natal depression.

But Marlo is fiercely independent, so when her self-described “rich asshole” brother Craig (Mark Duplass) “gifts” her a night nanny, she’s resistant at first, doesn’t like the idea of a stranger coming into her house and caring for her children while she sleeps. Eventually though stress and sleep deprivation get the better of her and, at the end of her tether, she reluctantly calls the nanny her brother has suggested.

Enter the vibrant, vivacious Tully (Mackenzie Davis), a kooky, free-spirit who seems as focused on caring for the desperate Marlo as she is the infant Mia. But as Tully insinuates herself into every aspect of Marlo’s life, proving herself indispensable, is the supernanny too good to be true?

A darkly comic mix of Mary Poppins and Fight Club, this third collaboration between Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody sees writer and director both at the height of their powers, exploring motherhood in all it’s unvarnished joy, terror and despair, giving Charlize Theron one of her best roles in years and offering a star-making turn to the luminous Mackenzie Davis.

Just as describing an actress in a review as “brave” often means she gets naked a lot, describing an actress as delivering a “vanity-free” performance is often just shorthand for saying she got fat. But in Tully, Theron truly does give a vanity-free performance, emotionally and psychologically raw and uncompromising, her body still carrying the bulky baby weight cinema never dreams of showing us, she’s a typical Diablo Cody heroine, Juno all grown up with three babies behind her and a boringly static, normal marriage, Cody’s writing showing a fresh maturity to match Theron’s performance. And Theron is brilliant, as good and as vulnerable and as tough as you’ve ever seen her, her Marlo a woman too tired to even know she’s unhappy.

Davis’ Tully meanwhile is a spritely, mischievous force not of anarchy but of order, soothing, nurturing, and it’s the burgeoning friendship between these two initially disparate women that drives the film, Davis radiating both a serene stillness and a joyous rambunctiousness, neither quality feeling out of character, that’s in sharp contrast to Theron’s weariness, as Tully saves Marlo from herself, Davis mirroring Theron much as she did Ana de Armas in Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049, the two women falling into synch.

Soulful, funny and just painful enough to feel relatable, Tully is that rare beast – a feelgood film about flawed, complicated women who actually feel real.

Movie Review: Tully
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