by Kate Sawtschuk, RDM editor
When I saw the preview of the 2018 film Tully, I was not particularly keen to see it. It shows an exhausted and miserable mother (Charlize Theron) slumped in a chair expressing milk like a farm animal amidst a scene of domestic chaos, seemingly engulfed by motherhood. As a mother, it certainly did not appear to be the movie to see as an escape or distraction, or a feel-good affirmation of the value of motherhood!
I was wrong. The story was captivating and original, but this film goes impressively beyond this. Some may say it is a dark take on motherhood – I would say that its interpretation is honest and fresh, and one of the most relatable I’ve ever seen. I ended up watching it twice, enjoying it even more the second time!
The film (now available on Netflix, yay!) tells the story of Marlo, who is in her 40s and about to give birth to her third child. Marlo’s wealthy brother offers to hire a night nanny to ease her workload. The film follows the close friendship that develops between Marlo and her nanny, Tully.
Marlo is struggling to manage her exhaustion, isolation, lack of understanding from her husband, her so-called “quirky” son and the new baby. She is being swallowed whole by all of this, as well as the expectations and judgments of motherhood.
Her husband is dutiful and well-meaning, yet is overwhelmed by his role of father and breadwinner and lacks a true comprehension of what makes up her daily life. Even though I had the urge to be annoyed and exasperated by his character, it also made me think about how traditional expectations of the roles of both motherhood and fatherhood are restrictive and damaging and limit empathy for our partners.
Marlo’s son, whom she is told is “quirky” and “out of the box”, is having troubles at school and she is told that he needs one-on-one attention. I found this is an interesting take on how the narrow norms children are expected to fit into can place extra stress on parents who may be trying to manage the differences of each child in their own instinctive way. In this case, the manner in which the concerns are raised by the school principal rides awfully close to judgment, are unhelpful and place excessive strain on Marlo.
It is so powerful to see a different take on motherhood that incorporates its complexity and contradictions. A major part of the film’s achievement is that it sheds light on aspects of motherhood that are largely absent from popular culture, such as the notion of feeling trapped yet not wanting to escape, having the family you have dreamed of yet being made invisible by them, struggling with the monotony of everyday life yet fulfilled by the security it provides your children, wanting to be seen as a whole person and yet motherhood has taken over your very soul.
And there are the many touching moments in the movie that uniquely show the minutiae of motherhood in all its bittersweet glory – making dinner, playing with her kids, packing school lunches, long nights with the baby, all depicted in a beautifully understated way.
So I highly recommend with movie, and get your partner to watch it with you! Just don’t read too much info about it online – it will spoil the poignancy of the ending.
Lastly, I think we should all take a moment to recognise the startling “sacrifice” Charlize made by, um…, eating to play this role. Seriously, why is her being a normal (as opposed to Hollywood) weight even noteworthy in the media? I guess it’s nice to know that even though much of motherhood remains undervalued by society, eating what we want can be classified as an heroic feat deserving much praise!