Reviewed by Rosemarie Leenerts, Library Assistant
Many women experience brief, mild bouts of depression known as the baby blues days or weeks after giving birth, but another 10 percent to 20 percent go through a much more severe form called postpartum depression, or perinatal depression. Still fewer women—just one or two out of 1,000—may experience postpartum psychosis, a deep depression filled with delusions, hallucinations, and rapid mood swings that can result in tragedy.
Few movies have broached the subject of the struggle women can face in the postpartum period, relying instead on the images of chubby, cooing babies and adoring moms in homes filled with bliss. The movie Tully, however, is a big-budget film that turns the spotlight on the mental health crisis some mothers with newborns experience.
When we meet Marlo (Charlize Theron), she is very pregnant, and her two school-aged kids are a handful—especially five-year-old Jonah, who suffers from an unnamed developmental disorder. Marlo’s husband has tuned out with video games while Marlo tries to manage life in her 1970s split-level house that looks as worn and tired as she does. It is evident that Marlo has a lot on her plate—and this is even before her third child is born.
In fact, Marlo cannot seem to cut a break. One morning, after finally getting both kids through a stressful daily routine and out the door for school, Jonah has an episode in the car, kicking and screaming, this being a prelude to an uncomfortable meeting with the principal about Jonah’s classroom behavior. When stopping at a coffee shop for a quick break on her way home, Marlo is mommy-shamed by another customer for ordering a decaf—with its “trace amounts of caffeine”—while pregnant.
The day culminates at dinner at Marlo’s yuppy brother and sister-in-law’s perfect, modern home, where the kids are whisked away by a New Agey nanny named Shasta, who has a master’s degree in early childhood education and feeds the children truffle mac and cheese in a separate room from the adults. After dinner, Craig (Mark Duplass) offers his sister a unique baby gift of a night nanny, someone who can care for the baby between feedings while the mom sleeps. Marlo refuses the gift, much to the relief of her husband, Drew (Ron Livingston), who is intimidated by the pretentious Craig.
But once the baby is born and Marlo is exhausted by not only the postpartum routine and her own healing but the ongoing drama with Jonah and other problems, she reconsiders phoning the night nanny. That is when Tully appears in the picture, a young, energetic, modern-day Mary Poppins, who seems to be unbelievably in touch with Marlo’s feelings and is a nod to Marlo’s carefree youth. With Tully on the scene, Marlo’s life changes for the better until one fateful night just weeks into her postpartum journey.
The film, directed by Jason Reitman, brings to the screen one of the most realistic sequences ever of the middle-of-the-night postpartum pandemonium that is filled with endless diaper changes and feedings. Screenwriter Diablo Cody’s brilliant script, some of which was based on her own life, mixes humor with all the drama, similar to but in a more subtle way than her (and Reitman’s) previous film, Juno, dealt with teen pregnancy, and offers a startling twist toward the end. Academy Award–winner Theron shows Marlo’s every vulnerability and is perfect in the role.
Although Marlo’s condition is never labeled on screen—nor is that of Jonah’s, whose behavior is representative of a child on the autism spectrum—it is obvious that Marlo is undergoing a type of postpartum depression, maybe even psychosis. Cody has said in interviews that she did not name the condition on purpose because she wanted to show the discomfort many people experience when awaiting a diagnosis and treatment for a condition.
Tully (rated R) is available to request and check out through curbside pickup in honor of Maternal Mental Health Month in May.
Note: If you are experiencing mental distress and feeling suicidal, phone 9-1-1 or the emergency Lifeline at 800-273-8255 right away. Or, text HOME to 741741. For a thorough evaluation, discuss with your doctor any unusual signs and symptoms you may be experiencing postpartum.
Sources: National Suicide Prevention Line, https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/; People.com, Why the New Movie Tully Is Causing Controversy over Postpartum Depression Storyline, https://people.com/movies/tully-postpartum-depression-controversy-charlize-theron/; Postpartum Support International, Postpartum Psychosis, https://www.postpartum.net/learn-more/postpartum-psychosis/