I liked the “motherhood as body horror” approach that Tully takes for its first half, and bless Charlize Theron for her commitment in making Marlo look thoroughly wiped by the experience of having a third baby. Gaining weight and allowing her face to possess the necessary puffiness, Theron probably hasn’t looked this unglamorous since Monster, and yet her modest physical transformation pays off. It’s a pity she did it for such an unsatisfactory project, though. What could’ve been a no frills examination of the trials of being a mother becomes a supreme test of one’s patience as Diablo Cody dusts off a tired cliché and tries to refurbish it with some profundity. Her mistake is that, in doing so, she comes across as trivializing mental illness, robbing postpartum depression of its individual complexities while digging herself into some plot holes in the process. If you want a film that knows how to beautifully allegorize the many faces of mental illness, go and seek out Alex Garland’s Annihilation, because compared to it, Tully is child’s play. And Garland’s film doesn’t have a Manic Pixie Mary Poppins, which, I assure you, is a good thing. Mackenzie Davis is great here, but oof, what a thankless role.
I’m also really over films that nervously wring their hands over autistic characters. This one is a case in point. Marlo’s son is undoubtedly on the spectrum, yet we’re told three doctors have been unable to officially diagnose him. Like, give me a break. Autism is not a dirty word, and putting it out into the open won’t kill us. It’s also unfortunate that a 2018 film just has to kick around an ableist slur like “retarded,” even when it’s put into the mouth of an exasperated mother. We’re better than that, guys. We should know better. Keeping these words mainstream through mass-consumed media like this is going to continue giving them power, and more people with disabilities are going to get hurt. So let’s not do that. Screenwriters, if you’re reading this, please don’t indulge in these slurs. No one benefits from it, and you’re only doing yourself a disservice.