The outstanding movie Tully opens this week, and is a perfect subject for my Friday Female Spotlight because of not only the talent associated with it – writer Diablo Cody and star Charlize Theron – but also because of the film’s subject matter: Motherhood.
Diablo Cody is one of Hollywood’s more fascinating female voices, especially given her unique background. When she came out of the gate with the delightful Juno in 2007, the story of Cody’s past became a colorful addition to her success. Cody was a former stripper and a journalist, who ended up writing a best-selling memoir, Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper. She was told she should write a screenplay and did so within a matter of months.
And we got Juno, an alerting breath of fresh air for its time. The story centering on a teenager and her unplanned pregnancy was bright, quirky, hilarious and most importantly, genuine, and it scored big with audiences. It launched not only Cody’s career — and gave her an Oscar, to boot — but also star Ellen Page’s and also elevated director Jason Reitman, after his equally entertaining but smaller freshman feature, Thank You for Not Smoking.
With Cody’s screenplays, which also includes the horror flick Jennifer’s Body, the dark comedy Young Adult (with Theron and Reitman) and the Showtimes series The United States of Tara, there is always an element of authenticity. Her stories are driven by women who are flawed but relatable, with some of the most whip-smart dialogue ever written. Just for example, one of my favorite lines from Juno (of which there are a plethora because that film is highly quotable): “Yea, if I could just have the thing and give it to you now, I totally would. But I’m guessing it looks probably like a sea monkey right now and we should let it get a little cuter.”
Needless to say, Cody has scored again with Tully. Along with her frequent collaborator Reitman, who I can safely deem an honorary female for how he handles Cody’s material, Tully takes aim at the ups and downs of motherhood. As Cody’s muse once again, Charlize Theron plays Marlo, a mom of three who isn’t at all your happy Susie homemaker. When we first meet her, she’s actually about to pop with baby number three, and just watching her maneuver around as a nine-month pregnant person gave me flashbacks. Oh boy, how I hated to be pregnant. I’m not going to lie, it was just a brutal attack on my body and while the end result was pretty amazing, it was a long haul.
Theron just nails it. She gives such an authentic feel to what it’s like being a new mom – especially in those first few weeks when you are a non-stop feeding machine. Plus, Marlo has to take care of her two older children, one of which has developmental and sensory issues, just adding more stress to this woman’s life. Now while I thankfully did not experience a clinical version of postpartum depression, there is no way you can stop the roller coaster of emotions and hormones coursing through your body. You really just have to ride the ride in whatever way you can ride it.
Cody knows exactly what I’m talking about, being a mom of three herself (with husband Dan Maurio). While the circumstances could be different for Cody, she still wrote this from experience, and with her beautifully poignant and hilariously honest words coming out of Theron’s mouth, the movie is ultimately a love letter to being mom, warts and all.
Because as Marlo navigates this continuing life adventure, she meets Tully, played so wonderfully by MacKenzie Davis, who comes in as a night nurse to ease some of Marlo’s stress. And ease she does, helping Marlo find joy again in the small things about being a mom. Davis and Theron have such an amazing rapport in this, and even with some of the surprising twists that occur, the two actresses just wholeheartedly connect. I also give a shout-out to Ron Livingston, as Marlo’s patient and supportive husband, who also never plays it one-note.
Tully might make it all the way to awards season, you can never quite tell, but Theron needs to be recognized for this performance. Although much has been made about the fact she gained a bunch of weight to play Marlo (much like she did for Oscar-winning performance in Monster) – and she’s talked about how hard that was to do – it really didn’t matter if she looked the part or not. She inhabited this woman heart and soul because she never seems to do anything half ass. From something so brutally forceful as Atomic Blonde or Mad Max: Fury Road to this sweet dramedy, the actress astounds me again and again. She makes even something mediocre, like Gringo which came out earlier this year, more watchable when she’s onscreen.
But my final point on Tully is this: In this slowly changing new world of recognizing women in Hollywood and giving them their due, Diablo Cody stands up to be counted, plain and simple. She writes from a very real place and that’s why her films resonate so completely with women. It also doesn’t hurt that her worldview is devastatingly wry and that she’s aligned herself with like-minded people, namely Theron and Reitman. Those three just have to keep making movies together.
Cody’s next project is the Barbie movie with Anne Hathaway, and I can’t wait.