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This image shows Mackenzie Davis , left, and Charlize Theron in a scene from 'Tully.' [Focus Features]

Movie review: Charlize Theron delivers in pregnancy drama ‘Tully’

Unless you’re Kate Middleton strolling out of hospital wearing spike heels and sporting a fresh blowout a mere six hours after giving birth, motherhood is messy. And so is the matriarchal madness of “Tully.” It’s a comedy. It’s a drama. It’s a cautionary tale. It’s a mental health allegory. It’s up, it’s down. It’s happy, it’s sad. It’s all over the place — just like motherhood.

In it, Charlize Theron plays the ultimate oxymoron: Harried mom. She’s just given birth to her (unplanned) third baby and is gifted a “night nanny,” the Tully of the title, to help. For most of the movie, director Jason Reitman, teaming for a third collaboration with his “Juno” and “Young Adult” scribe, Diablo Cody, are onto something in their depictions and observations of the everyday challenges mothers face — tantrums, clueless spouses, judge-y strangers, sleep deprivation, breastfeeding, cooking, cleaning, shuffling other kids around, baking nut-free cupcakes that look like Minions. The minutia of motherhood is maddening and the pressure to do it all is real, trust me.

By now, the material is mostly maternal clichés, but you can overlook all the familiar beats because Reitman, Cody and Theron present their character study with nothing but realism, accentuated with Cody’s trademark catchy, quotable dialogue. It’s as raw as nipples after breastfeeding, right down to moments that you never want people to witness, such as the indignity of wearing a diaper after childbirth, peeing in front of the nurse, or the primal screams of frustration Marlo lets loose after placing the crying baby safely inside a car seat.

Like too many women out there, Theron’s Marlo is a good mom, but she’s suffocating. Her 8-year-old daughter (Lia Frankland) is growing up too fast. Her “quirky” 5-year-old son (Asher Miles Fallica) has emotional problems. Her husband (Ron Livingston) is pleasant enough, but too busy at work and busier at home with his video games. Sadly, Marlo has no support system, seemingly no friends and mourns her carefree single days. Now 40 and trapped in her squishy postpartum body, she feels like “an abandoned trash barge.” Watching the soft-porn reality TV show “Gigolos” is the closest she gets to enjoyment. It’s no wonder she’s suffering the baby blues something fierce.

Enter her lifeline in the form of a 26-year-old sprite named Tully (Mackenzie Davis), apparently paid for by Marlo’s “bougie” brother, Craig (Mark Duplass). Tully is full of positivity and New Age advice: “You can’t fix the part without treating the whole.” Tully’s a game-changer. She arrives nightly at 10:30 to mind newborn Mia while Marlo sleeps. She wakes only to nurse the baby. After a few days, Marlo is instantly brighter, “it’s like I can see color again.” The middle-portion of the movie shows our girl getting her groove back. She runs, wears makeup, and prepares home-cooked meals. It’s great, but it also causes you to wonder where the film is headed. And, what happens is not what you’d expect.

For her part, Theron, who’s in every scene, shed all vanity, reportedly gaining 50 pounds for the role. She pushes her all-in performance to the emotional brink until eventually the script lets her down with a twist that is neither earned nor necessary. You go along, however, because of Theron, who’s able to live in the sweet spot between vulnerability, self-deprecation and toughness.

Someone should show this movie to Princess Kate because real-life motherhood is not what she represents. Reitman, Cody and Theron articulate and visualize this existence so genuinely, I was practically high-fiving the screen. That is until the movie falls apart in the too-contrived third-act (no spoilers). Like a baby taking a morning and afternoon nap — “Tully” turns out to be too good to be true.

— Dana Barbuto may be reached at dbarbuto@ledger.com or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.

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