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Between glamorous stars and high production values, real life can sometimes get lost in Hollywood -- and depictions of motherhood are a good example. From giving birth to creating a work/life balance, elements are prettified, dramatized, and idealized to such an extent that they border the hyper-realities of comic book movies. It can get laughably ridiculous at times - but then you have titles like director Jason Reitman's Tully that successfully pull things back to Earth.

In contrast to the norm, Tully presents the uglier side of motherhood -- which is to say, the side that doesn't have time to put on makeup in the morning because the newborn crying all night prevents any sleep from being had -- and it's both a refreshing and provoking experience. Featuring a powerhouse performance from star Charlize Theron, and some wonderful and legitimately surprising twists and turns, it's a fantastic bit of summer blockbuster counterprogramming, but also a title that very well may pop its head up again late in the year as we get into awards season.

The first collaboration between Jason Reitman, screenwriter Diablo Cody, and Charlize Theron since 2011's Young Adult, their latest stars the lead actress as Marlo, who begins the story about ready to pop with her third child. She has gone on maternity leave from her job while her husband, Drew (Ron Livingston), is still working and regularly traveling, and things are frequently overwhelming and chaotic as she tries to manage her household. Her wealthy brother, Craig (Mark Duplass), puts out an offer to hire a night nanny so that she can start getting some much-needed sleep, but it's a gift that Marlo initially rejects.

This changes, however, when Marlo actually has her baby, as she begins to struggle taking care of her newborn and her other young kids (including a son with an undiagnosed developmental disorder). Despite her deep fear of kick-starting the typical plot of a Lifetime Movie, Marlo breaks down and decides to go the night nanny route -- and it's a path that introduces Tully (Mackenzie Davis) into her life. Tully is a wide-eyed, philosophy-spouting, energetic young woman who immediately makes herself at home and works to lift the weight of motherhood off of our protagonist's shoulders. As she comes by each night, she not only takes care of the baby but takes care of Marlo, leading her to reflect on the past and who she used to be in contrast with who she has become.

Clearly the film has a very strong supporting cast, but there is no question who the star of the show is here, as Charlize Theron delivers what is unequivocally one of the greatest performances of her career -- and one that is as transformative as her work in Monster or Mad Max: Fury Road. There is an impeccably dull world-weariness to Marlo that she not-so-elegantly communicates, as you impressively get the impression that Theron stayed awake for six straight months in preparation for the part. At the same time, it's a remarkable thing to see her play that weariness in combination with the spark that Tully inspires in her, and it becomes something moving.

Charlize Theron's turn is an intimate and honest one -- and you sense a tremendous trust that exists between the performer and filmmakers (one forged from a previous collaboration). Tully's heart is a warts-and-all depiction of motherhood, and it's often unflinching -- painfully awkward as it may get. That's truly the key to its reality, however, and it never loses that, even as it moves into more "cinematic" narrative choices in the third act -- which is all one can say without saying too much.

Furthering that point, immense credit is due to Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody for making Tully as compelling as it is. There isn't a ton of story that comes packed with the high-concept idea presented, but with only the occasional dip, it remains arresting throughout. The aforementioned intimacy quickly forges a relationship between the audience and Marlo, and that hook stays in from beginning to end.

Between Young Adult and Tully, one can successfully argue that Diablo Cody and Charlize Theron bring out the best in Jason Reitman, as their two movies together represent the two best titles in his filmography (in my opinion). As mentioned, Tully is a strange summer release, and could get lost in the waves of sci-fi and action blockbusters, but it's not a film to ignore, and is worth searching out. At the very least, you'll find yourself in-the-know as Theron's work begins to inspire Oscar chatter.

8 / 10 stars
Rating: movie reviewed star rating out of five
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