By John H. Foote
Charlize Theron is a daring actress, she likes challenge and great risk in her art. Her performance as the serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster (2003), won her an Academy Award for Best Actress and stands among the greatest performances in film history. She embodied the character, lost herself in the role, creating a seething character who was angry at the world, her eyes blazing with self loathing. Theron is a beautiful woman, among the most beautiful working in movies, and until Monster (2003) was not really taken seriously as an actor. That film changed the thinking on her. Since then, she has been nominated again in North Country (2005) and should have had nominations for Young Adult (2011) and George Millers stunning updating of Mad Max – Fury Road (2015) which won six Academy Awards.
When the nominations for this year are announced, expect to see her performance in this film among those up for Best Actress.
Once again working with the gifted Jason Reitman, she slips under the skin of a troubled young wife and mother, struggling to keep her head above water, about to give birth again, all while getting no sleep or much help from anyone with the two young kids she already has terrorizing the home. Reitman has twice been nominated for Best Director, the first time for his brilliant, wildly irreverent pregnancy comedy Juno (2007) and again two years later for the soulful drama Up in the Air (2009) which gave audiences one of the finest performances from George Clooney. As a director and screenwriter Reitman has displayed a unique talent for interesting, quirky characters who are entirely believable. There is an honesty to his writing that is refreshing and feels original, making him along with a handful of other young Director-writers the new voices of American film.
Tully represents a return to form for the director-writer, as well as a bold move away from his comfort zone, making a film that is awards worthy, and beautifully explores the world of woman. Oscar winning screenwriter Diablo Cody wrote the film, lending her perverse, even twisted look at life, giving the film an unseen, but felt bubbling energy just below the surface. Seemingly grounded in reality, the film superbly explores the difficult role of the mom, about to be a mom again, and how she is slowly coming unhinged.
Theron is miraculous as Marlo, an overworked, under appreciated wife and mother who is bone tired, so exhausted she does not have time, nor the inclination to even bathe. She cannot handle the two kids she has now, and there is a third on the way. Her eyes betray her, she is slipping into dangerous waters, falling off the edge. Postpartum, nope, full scale insanity is tapping her on the shoulder.
Her brother in law offers her the gift of a nanny, which she refuses, but after a rough patch gives in and Tully (Mackenzie Davis) arrives. At once everything changes, as Tully helps Marlo pump her breast milk, bathe and puts the kids to bed while Marlo gets a good night’s sleep. When Marlo wakes up, her once messy house is cleaned, top to bottom.
Marlo slowly begins to climb out of the hole she had fallen into thanks to the help of Tully.
What is remarkable about this adult fairy tale is that you just do not see the startling twist coming. It is a gut punch, but I wonder how many pregnant women betrayed by their bodies, husband, expectations of their kids and life have gone down this path? The moment you realize what is really going on, goosebumps come first, and then deep sadness that someone could ever be this down? And then, oddly, wonder at the sheer resiliency of the human mind and how it protects us in times of need.
Then of course the dawning realization, how much someone will be missed.
The cast, superbly led by Theron in what could be an Oscar winning performance are excellent. Davis is a wonder, miraculously filling the void for Marlo, making her life easier than it was allowing her to find what she had lost. Ron Livingston is outstanding as her hubby, but Theron is so good he is but a prop.
Theron should be on the path to Oscar again, as the actress captures what it is to be invisible in the home, taken advantage of, unseen, forgotten. She is so good it takes your breath away.
Diablo Cody wrote the script, again teaming up with Reitman to create mainstream art as they did with both Juno (2007) and the deeply under appreciated Young Adult (2011).
It is a great film.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.