Dir: Jason Reitman; Writer: Diablo Cody
Cast: Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Ron Livingston, Asher Miles Fallica, Lia Frankland
95 mins, USA 2018
Charlize Theron and Mackenzie Davis are utterly brilliant as, respectively, exhausted, harassed, at-the-end-of-her-tether Marlo, mother of two small children and a newborn baby, and Tully, a competent, sympathetic, friendly and curious young night-nanny, who has been gifted to Marlo by her rich, successful brother.
Quite early on we’re given a speeded-up sequence of a series of nights with a new-born baby: the screaming, the getting-out of bed, the feeding, the nappy change, the falling back into bed, the screaming, the getting-out of bed. It gets faster and faster until it becomes a nightmare blur: it had me laughing in horrified recognition.
Thinking about the film later, I realised that it’s partly a story about the old-fashioned virtue of sticking with your family through thick and thin. And I also realised (although I had also thought this while watching it) that in fact Marlo’s husband Drew (Ron Livingston) gets off pretty lightly. In most circumstances my feminist hackles would have been raised …
… but … The harassed mother at the heart of the film is so realistic: the haggard eyes, the leaking breasts, those awful breast pumps, the sagging belly and elasticated trousers, the relentless school run and the shouting at her little boy when he kicks the back of the driver’s seat over and over again …
When Tully turns up to look after the baby, Marlo’s life is transformed. I was gripped, not knowing which way the story was going to go: noir? Gothic? Feminist triumphalist?
No, none of those things. The big reveal came as a complete surprise to me, and I found it very moving. (I bet Ismay would have read the clues and seen beforehand what was coming, but she’s been in Japan so I saw this on my own.) I’ll say no more about what happens, but I felt that it added depth. Or breadth. Both, maybe.
I seem to remember that Reitman’s Juno (2007), also written by Diablo Cody, pulled off a similar achievement: that is, a story line that you might think (I do think) conservative in terms of sexual politics (in Juno a teenager becomes pregnant and keeps the baby) which is transcended by the warmth of the portrayal of the central character, the credibility of the whole scenario, and the witty truthfulness of it all.
‘I love us,’ says Drew at the end of this film, meaning the whole family.
‘I love us too,’ replies Marlo.
And you really hope it works out for them.