TULLY (M)

 

***1/2

 

Director Jason Reitman

 

Starring Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Ron Livingston

 

Running time 96 minutes

 

Verdict A chick flick with an edge

 

Charlize Theron can act - she has an Oscar to prove it.

The 42-year-old beauty still needed to gain more than 20kg to convincingly play a suburban mother-of-three in her latest film, Tully, written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman (Juno, Young Adult).

Of course, "yummy mummies" struggle with post-natal depression, too.

But for moviegoers to buy the Hollywood A-lister as a worn-out, stay-at-home mum, Theron had to manifest the inner-frowziness that is part and parcel of the job description.

The last time the actress gained this much weight for a role - as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster - she was barely recognisable (shaved eyebrows and prosthetic teeth completed the transformation.)

 

Mackenzie Davis, left, and Charlize Theron in a scene from Tully.
Mackenzie Davis, left, and Charlize Theron in a scene from Tully. Focus Features

 

In Tully, the metamorphosis is more ordinary, but just as crucial.

Marlo exists in a different cinematic universe to Atomic Blonde's superspy, Lorrain Broughton, and that makes her much more relatable.

But while Theron's physical appearance makes a significant contribution to moviegoer's suspension of disbelief - that muffin top is real -- it's her underlying performance that gives the film its heart and soul.

Seven years after Young Adult, a bold black comedy about a faded thirty-something mid-Western beauty queen, Theron, Cody and Reitman reunite for an intimate account of the vulnerable, all-consuming state of early motherhood.

You can almost smell the distinctive newborn blend of milky vomit, soaking nappies and food-encrusted dishes.

Charlize Theron in a scene from Tully.
Charlize Theron in a scene from Tully. Focus Features

Happy might be pushing it - Tully is aiming for an unvarnished portrait of family life - but Marlo and her husband Drew (Ron Livingston) have a solid marriage, the foundations of which are about to sorely tested by the arrival of their unplanned third child.

They're an average couple whose resources are already taxed by a son with special needs -- refreshingly, the filmmakers refrain from giving Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica) a label.

Warm, stubborn, and frayed around the edges, Marlo initially turns down her wealthy brother's (Mark Duplass) gift of a night nanny because she wants to be hands-on mum.

But when sleep deprivation takes its inexorable toll, she reconsiders.

Marlo and the nocturnal free spirit (Mackenzie Davis) who turns up on her doorstep form an intense bond as Tully swiftly sets the struggling mum's house in order.

But the Mary Poppins-like character's abrupt announcement that it's time for her to move on threatens to bring her employer's world crashing down around her head.

And at this point, the film takes an unexpected turn - that ultimately raises more questions than it answers.

But the chemistry between the two actresses is so strong, and the story is so affecting, the unresolved elements of their relationship don't matter nearly as much as one might expect.

Tully opens on Thursday.


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