Tully review: Charlize Theron carries the mother load in bitter-sweet comedy

Charlize Theron: "She's someone who loves her children immensely".

It is not until a 21st century Mary Poppins, who takes multitasking to dizzying new heights, materialises in the fractured family home and re-energises the exhausted matriarch with an endless supply of self-help aphorisms, that an emotional dam breaks and the words and tears cascade. It lives in the unglamorous and sleepless postpartum haze of breast pumps and swaddles.

Theron: Well the actress that we wanted wasn't available, but she was a close friend of my agent. It didn't hurt that her youngest was six months old and had just moved out of her room, finally offering her a complete night of sleep.

Marlo is less sure. Presumably, she's also helping hubby Drew (Ron Livingston), but he tends to slumber through most of the baby's crying, and anyway he doesn't have the equipment to feed her.

Marlo keeps trudging, and "Tully" hovers around her quest for inactivity ― a moment's quiet, a dollop of extra-motherly fulfillment.

Though Drew seems oblivious to this and pats his kids on the head after he comes in from work before disappearing upstairs to play computer games, Marlo is becoming dangerously depressed. Theron embodies Cody's voice easily and aplomb, making clever quips sound organic to her specifically caustic personality. When we first meet Mavis, Theron's boozy cherry bomb, she is passed out in bed, facedown, still wearing the cups she'd stuffed inside her bra the night before. "I used it as a form of therapy-fantasizing about what it might be like if somebody could magically appear and take care of me". As soon as the movie ended, she lost it all. It was just impossible for me to even imagine playing a woman who is giving birth to her third child on page 10 and not thinking what the aftermath would be.

The dialogue, of course, is unmistakably Cody's.

Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody ("Juno") teams with director Jason Reitman for a third time to make the Charlize Theron-starring drama "Tully".

Reitman's last few films have been disappointments. Similarly, the scenes where Marlo's mind wanders restlessly in sleep resemble young Henry's turbulent adolescent dreams in Reitman's 2014 film Labor Day.

Tully is nearly too good to be true, full of fun facts and homespun wisdom.

Coming off a jam-packed year of movies including Atomic Blonde, Gringo and The Fate of the Furious, Theron gives credit to her own mother, Gerda Maritz, who lives up the street and regularly steps in as co-parent. It's surely one of the most authentic portrayals of young motherhood that we've had - and it's not like that's a much chronicled subject for Hollywood.

But where Mavis was often blind to the realities of her depression, Marlo is reminded of hers at every turn.

Tully first debuted as a secret screening at the Sundance Film Festival in January, and has been hailed by critics for its revealing look at motherhood-and adulthood. But while "Tully" has a twist up its sleeve, it remains a minor exercise. But we learn fairly little of her life before kids, nor much of it after. "I find that sometimes it's a really good acting teacher, just observing people". Two and a half stars out of four.

"Tully", a Focus Features release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for "language and some sexuality/nudity".

  • Jon Douglas