There’s an element of warfare to Tully, Charlize Theron’s second outing with Young Adult director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody. In it, Theron plays Marlo, an overwhelmed and over-it pregnant mother of two. Her Waterloo: the birth of her third child. As she plunges into staggering depths of exhaustion, Marlo faces down opponents familiar to so many mothers: an ineffectual partner, moody daughter, and differently abled son (and a school system that fails him); scarce funds for child care; and a postpartum body—heavy, leaking, and unwieldy—that’s no longer her own. Relief comes in the form of the titular night nurse, Tully, gifted to Marlo by her wealthy brother, and perhaps too good to be true.
Theron, who adopted her two children—Jackson (Jacks), six, and August (Auggie), two—gained 35 pounds for the part. And not since her Oscar-winning turn as Aileen Wuornos in Monster has the 42-year-old been more unrecognizable. (It’s worth noting that while Wuornos was actually homicidal, there are times when Theron’s Marlo, dead-eyed and anguished, looks similarly unhinged.)
Bolstering the dark comedy is Cody’s clever, poignant dialogue, which is at once funny “ha-ha” and funny “hmmm.” And while, yes, Tully is a mom movie, albeit one of a very specific socioeconomic status, it’s also a rumination on aging and the erasure of one’s identity when faced with the relentless monotony and drudgery of not just mom life, but life in general. In a phone interview with her good friend Chelsea Handler, who has famously chosen “otherhood”—aka not having children—Theron unloads all that’s weighing her down. — Katie Connor