There are moments in Tully that are unlike perhaps anything else you’ve seen on screen when it comes to birth scenes.
It doesn’t show the details of the birth a la Knocked Up, which itself was revolutionary if not kind of gross, but you see the moments afterward that are just sort of normal. Charlize Theron, who shines as new mother Marlo, sports a diaper. She, in her attempt to be discharged from the hospital, tries her darndest to urinate so the nurse will let her leave. In one exception where it’s OK to discuss an actress’ weight, Theron gained about 50 pounds for the role to exhibit Marlo’s baby weight, another notion hardly seen on screen.
Later, she’s seen exhausted from all the trappings that come with a newborn in a lovely montage involving dirty diapers and wailing cries.
These seemingly unglamorous moments were part of director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody’s attempts to make the details feel real, Reitman said on a press tour stop in Philadelphia ahead of the film’s May 4 opening.
Tully is the third collaboration between Reitman and Cody, who also created Juno and Young Adult, the latter of which starred Theron. Tully follows Marlo, who at 40 becomes a new mom again while already the mother of two and hires a 26-year-old night nanny named Tully (an effervescent Mackenzie Davis), a gift from her wealthy brother (Mark Duplass) to help her take care of the newborn and actually get some sleep.
It should be noted that Marlo does have a husband, Drew (Ron Livingston), who travels often for work and helps their two kids with their homework but is largely unaware of the toll motherhood is having on his wife.
Tully is like an adult Mary Poppins, Reitman noted, who comes to help complete Marlo’s life. (She’s even wearing a scarf when she first appears and soon just lets herself into Marlo’s home.)
On its surface, the film follows the unique and tightknit bond the two women form and Marlo’s journey with motherhood, but — without giving anything away — once you see it, it becomes a different story entirely.
For Reitman, the story explores parenting in a way that hasn’t really been portrayed on screen before.
“Parenting is a subject that most adults have experience with and at the same time, has always been portrayed on screen with a really soft brush,” he said. “Parenting is taboo, I don’t know why. People talk about everything these days — they tell each other what drugs they’re on, what medication they take, what problems they have, what they told their therapist, and yet we don’t talk about how complicated and scary parenting is and how lonely it can feel in the middle of the night, and that along with the beauty comes a lot of fear and a lot of self-doubt and a lot of shame.”
Cody’s script, which has all the witty one-liners and trademarks of a Cody film, felt true to that notion, he added. “We felt it was all of our jobs — cast and crew, everyone contributed — to fill the film with enough rich detail that when you looked up on screen, it felt like you were looking in a mirror.”
Tully adds a third chapter to an ongoing theme examining the human condition in Reitman and Cody’s works together.
“There’s a connective tissue that deals with the human timeline and where we feel we are at in our own lives, and how often we feel like we’re too late for something or too early for something or somehow we missed the on-ramp to something and it’s easy to feel lost within your own life,” he said. “And Juno is about growing up too soon and Young Adult is about growing up too slow, and this one is about that moment when you have a child when the younger version of your life starts to seem like an actual other human being, and that seems to be an interest for Diablo and I.”
While working with Cody and Theron again lent a familiarity and comfort on set, Reitman of course has had years of experience working behind the camera.
He grew up in Los Angeles and was given exposure to the film industry from a young age courtesy of his father, Ivan Reitman, whom you know for Ghostbusters and Kindergarten Cop, the latter set of which Reitman remembers working menial jobs and getting his own walkie-talkie when he was 13.
But parentage aside, Reitman carved his own individual filmmaking path with such films as Thank You for Smoking and Up in the Air, both of which garnered critical praise and award nominations.
“I love being on set. It’s a circus life that I grew up in, and I grew up spending summers on sets and getting to know the cast and the crew and getting to spend the whole summer with them and watching the bonding that happens,” he said. “There’s a rhythm to that that is very circus-like, and I guess it’s just in my blood.”
His Jewish heritage, too, played a role in his affinity for filmmaking and bringing stories to life.
He grew up attending a Conservative temple, the rabbi of which he said they are still friendly with.
“I would say impact-wise, being Jewish is being a storyteller,” he said. “It’s kind of a history of storytelling. I always thought it’s one of the reasons we remain is our ability to tell our own story.”
His next project, The Frontrunner starring Hugh Jackman, follows politician Gary Hart’s 1988 bid for president before dropping out from allegations of an affair with Donna Rice.
In the meantime, he’s focusing on Tully and being grateful for the opportunity to do what he loves.
“I feel very fortunate that I get to make [movies],” he said, “and there’s fewer and fewer personal stories that are made for adults and I feel like for some reason I get to still make them, and I hope they continue to let me make them.”
[email protected]; 215-832-0740