It’s been more than a decade since director and sometime writer Jason Reitman hit the ground running, churning out, in order, the thoughtful, offbeat, and entertaining string of films “Thank You for Smoking,” “Juno,” and “Up in the Air.” He hit a few bumps with “Young Adult,” bombed with “Labor Day,” and misfired with the ambitious but underappreciated “Men, Women & Children.”
Now he’s reteaming with Diablo Cody, who also wrote “Juno” and “Young Adult.” He’s also back with “Young Adult” star Charlize Theron, again tackling a challenging role and turning it into something recognizable and real.
She plays Marlo, a harried mom with a workaholic husband Drew (Ron Livingston), a loving 8-year-old daughter, Sarah, and a younger son, Jonah, who’s got an undiagnosed medical problem that leaves him prone to tantrums if routine isn’t followed. Three more things: Their home is a constant mess, she’s exhausted all the time, and she’s almost nine-months pregnant. Marlo is overwhelmed by life.
It’s her wealthy, full-of-himself brother Craig (Mark Duplass) who pulls her aside and insists that things will get even tougher after the baby arrives, so he would be happy to hire a night nanny for them, someone to help out at home so Marlo and Drew can at least get a good night’s sleep. It’s an idea that’s alien to Marlo, but one that she finally accepts shortly after freaking out at a school administrator who says Jonah needs to find a school where he’ll fit in.
A little girl soon arrives, and shortly after that there’s a late-night knock on the door, and a different sort of little girl is standing there. It’s Tully (Mackenzie Davis), the night nanny, immediately reading Marlo’s reaction to her, saying, “I’m older than I look.”
Beyond her big, eager to please eyes and her infectious smile, Tully couldn’t be any more energetic and chirpy, to the point that she comes across as a bit cartoonish. But she’s sure a welcome addition for Marlo. Almost immediately she’s getting that needed sleep, being awakened by Tully only when it’s time for her to nurse. Sometimes when she gets up in the morning, and Tully has gone home, the whole house has been cleaned. They even start hanging out together at home, trading stories, though Marlo’s are of the personal type and Tully’s are more informational; she’s a walking encyclopedia about interesting stuff, at least stuff that Marlo finds interesting.
Throughout all of this, Drew is a bit removed. He works hard, and when he’s home, is good with the kids. But he doesn’t even bother to stay up late enough to meet Tully.
This all becomes a movie about life that was once in upheaval taking a turn for the better. Marlo is certainly seeing herself come around, happy that she’s getting her life in order. The character arc that Theron follows is spot-on, and her changes — physically and emotionally — are completely believable.
But Tully wants things to be even better. Finding out that Marlo’s marriage to Drew has lost its spark, she comes up with a plan to help. The solution is an odd one, but not any stranger than the fact that, even after a big chunk of time, we know very little about Tully. When Marlo asks her what she does during the day, the answer is vague. When asked if she has a boyfriend, she says she’s “in several relationships.” Marlo believes she’s got no other choice but to trust this young woman.
This all moves along breezily, then jumps into a bizarrely out-of-the-blue conclusion that doesn’t fit into the framework of what’s come before it. There will likely be much discussion among viewers as to what actually happens, and why. But one thing everyone should agree on is that the film isn’t about Tully or the husband or the kids or life’s difficulties. It’s about Marlo. She’s a fascinating character as created by Diablo Cody and presented by Charlize Theron.
— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Diablo Cody; directed by Jason Reitman
With Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Ron Livingston, Mark Duplass