American films

Tully film review: Charlize Theron shines as depressed mother in comedy-drama about postnatal depression

Director Jason Reitman is never on the same wavelength as Theron, who delivers a gritty, insightful turn as a mother with postnatal depression who is coaxed back to health by a night nurse. A magic-realist approach might have served Diablo Cody’s story better

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 August, 2018, 9:02pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 August, 2018, 9:30pm

3/5 stars

An attempt to say something important about the psychological effects of motherhood and postnatal depression, this comedy drama is blighted by navel gazing but saved by some gritty, insightful acting from Charlize Theron. Her deeply internalised performance is often at odds with the pretty cinematography and frequent stabs at offbeat humour.

Tully writer Diablo Cody, a mother, on how life experiences help her tell stories

It’s a shame director Jason Reitman (Juno) didn’t follow Theron to the dark places she’s exploring – the result would have been shattering. The actress plays Marlo, a depressed suburban mum who’s struggling with her young son’s many phobias. An unplanned child, and the postnatal depression that follows his birth, exacerbate her existential despair.

Then the baby’s kindly overnight nurse Tully (Mackenzie Davis) lifts Marlo’s spirits and makes her feel better about her situation. The two women bond, and Tully rakes through Marlo’s past to show it in a comforting light. As they start to get close, the mysterious Tully tells Marlo it’s time for her to leave. Is she too good to be true?

Theron put weight on for the role, and slums around in a believable way – she works hard to get under her character’s skin to bring Marlo alive for the audience. Tully, by contrast, seems flat and one-dimensional, but the film’s big reveal puts Davis’ overly cheerful performance into its proper context.

Maternal depression is a brave theme for a film; motherhood is generally celebrated as a wholly joyous experience in family-obsessed American movies. That said, Marlo does not cross any boundaries – she’s always a caring mum. A magic- realist approach might have served the story better. Reitman’s direction is too prosaic to make its strange central conceit convincing.

Tully opens on August 30

Want more articles like this? Follow SCMP Film on Facebook