Directed by Jason Reitman
Starring: Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Ron Livingston
Rated R for language and some sexuality/nudity
Runtime: 1 hr. 36 mins.

I’m not sure how to describe Tully. Its billing as a comedy-drama sells it short. Quiet, yet graphic, it takes on parenting with an axe and sharpens its blade as it reveals how women slip into motherhood and get pummeled.

Is it a fair depiction?

Maybe. Maybe not. I’m sure, however, that many will identify with what Marlo (Charlize Theron) goes through to keep her household running. In short: work, work, work. The question is: Will viewers want to relive that experience, especially since Tully rubs our noses in the constant feedings, diapers and lack of sleep? Yeah, this is female parenting under a microscope and sometimes it can get a little ugly.

Marlo and her husband, Drew (Ron Livingston), have two children and a third on the way. Marlo is already overwhelmed with the full-time care of her oldest daughter, Emmy (Maddie Dixon-Poirier) and her younger son, Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica), who exhibits symptoms of Asperger syndrome.

While Drew is helpful with the kids, he isn’t particularly sensitive to Marlo’s needs. As a result, Marlo, already overwhelmed with child care, meals and repetitive chores, is not looking forward to adding another child to her to-do list.

One night at a family dinner, Marlo’s brother, Craig (Mark Duplass), offers to pay for a night nanny to help his sister cope. Marlo feels awkward about letting a complete stranger into her house, especially at night, and turns him down. That is, until the birth of her daughter Mia and the complaints from her son’s school about his unusual behavior leave her desperate and exhausted. After a particularly nasty confrontation with the school’s principal, she makes the call.

Enter Tully (Mackenzie Davis), a sweet girl in her 20s who seems unusually smart, cheerful and more than willing to pitch in and help Marlo get her life back. House cleanings, cupcakes, motivational encouragement. Best of all, someone Marlo can talk to, woman to woman.

As the two women bond, we begin to wonder about Tully. Who is she really and why does she care so much about Marlo? As the story progresses, the answers will surprise you.

Director Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air), in his third collaboration with writer Diablo Cody, has a knack for picking characters who are a bit lost in their life’s purpose, even if they may be functioning adults. This is certainly the case with Marlo, a highly intelligent woman whose body and soul have been wrenched from her control by something as normal as parenthood.

Reitman and Cody choose to move quietly through Marlo’s life, giving us close-ups of her inner struggles, her loneliness, her exhaustion. You get the feeling they know Marlo, have seen Marlo in many mothers, and want to tell her story without embellishment.

In introducing Tully, they have created a woman who is as close to Marlo as a woman can be without inhabiting her body. It’s an unusual arrangement, and one that raises more than a few eyebrows. Then skillfully and suddenly, Reitman pulls back the curtain and shocks us.

Theron once again goes through a marvelous transformation from Hollywood star to soiled and slightly overweight mother. Best of all, she’s believable as the devoted parent whose energy and compassion are stretched to the limits.

Tully is a small film with a big heart, pieced together slowly and skillfully. Not a movie built for laughs, it seeps into the viewer’s head without being overbearing or judgmental and slips along with barely a peep until the wall comes crashing down.

In the end, Tully is about surviving crises and digging out a persistent love. That crossroad, as bewildering as it may be, is necessary in order to give life, receive life, and eventually come to understand that our purpose as parents and humans is so much bigger than ourselves.