One Mother’s Take on Tully
Charlize Theron has apparently given the performance of her life in the latest collaboration between Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody. Sundance audiences lost their collective minds over it and early reviews are all breathless raves. When I first saw the trailer I thought: FINALLY!
Finally someone was going to tell the truth about motherhood on the big screen. Or, at least they were going to try. As a mother, as a postpartum coach, as a survivor of postpartum depression, anxiety and PTSD from a traumatic birth I was ecstatic.
I was ready for a dark and funny look at motherhood. Someone was going to expose the edge that so many mothers are teetering on. And then I read something that stopped me in my tracks:
“Tully, for a good while, doesn’t do anything terribly exotic — she’s like an extremely hip postpartum doula. But as her blissed-out ministrations bring Marlo back to life, the audience can’t help but wonder: What’s the catch? Without one, there would be no drama; there would be no movie. Without revealing the catch, I’ll just say that the first clue arrives when Tully volunteers to spice up Marlo’s sex life by sleeping with her husband, and the plan, unlikely as it sounds, works out swimmingly.” — Owen Gleiberman for Variety
All I could do was sigh. You know the one, the mom sigh. It’s the sigh that comes when you were hoping against hope for something that really shouldn’t be that difficult — only to be let down.
The sigh that happens the fifth time your child comes out of their room for a drink of water. Or when they somehow leave the homework folder you handed them five times in one morning on the kitchen table. Or when yet another movie with a nanny winds up with dad and the nanny in bed.
Or the offer.
Or the threat.
At this point I can’t roll my eyes any harder or I’ll prove my own mother right and they will get stuck like that.
This is the edge? This is the so called truth about motherhood in 2018? This played out madonna/whore trope dressed up in Charlize’s patented ugly-sexy look?
I’m not even angry, mostly just annoyed. Because the truth is that mothers are struggling. Every day families are struggling. And the role of a postpartum doula is to support healing and bonding amongst the family. A night nanny is there so that parents can get sleep. A night nurse so that parents of little ones with health struggles can get sleep knowing that their child is safe.
They are not sex workers. They are not handmaidens.
By all accounts the father in this movie is played as a classic American dad stereotype. He’s clueless. He’s not helpful. He’s more man-child than husband. But somehow his sexual needs are important enough for both of the female characters to worry about them? This dude is sexy enough for a 26 year old to want to sleep with him? After she’s seen what a blundering fool he is and how horrible of a partner he is?
Ummm… how is that a cool twist? How is this edgy?
Y’all do know that mothers want sex too, right? There are plenty of mothers who can barely wait the six weeks after childbirth — or who don’t make it to that milestone — before having sex with their partners. And those mothers still could use the support and help of a postpartum doula. Getting back in bed with your spouse or partner (or anyone) does not equal being healed physically or emotionally from childbirth.
And the mothers who seem to have lost their sex drives — they’re generally buried under all the same things that Theron’s character of Marlo is in this movie. But instead of anyone pointing that out to the father, telling him to get his act together, and helping that family find a new way forward — the edgy, cool thing is for the nanny to offer to hop in bed with daddy.
This movie is being marketed (and received) as a breath of fresh air in the way that mothers are portrayed on-screen. She doesn’t ‘get her body back’! She hand expresses milk in the bathroom of a nightclub! They eat frozen pizza! WOW! And maybe for Hollywood that is edgy, that is revelatory. For the rest of us that’s Tuesday. Didn’t Jane pump and dump in a nightclub in Jane The Virgin? Is it only raw and real if white moms are doing it?
There is already this idea permeating our culture that mothers — good mothers, real mothers, can do it all. That we should be able to do it all and that we should be able to do it all alone. It’s why everyone fawned over my partner for changing diapers. It’s why they nearly fainted in shock when they learned that he makes the dentist appointments for the kids. Frankly — it’s why I have a job as a coach for mothers. I wouldn’t need to help mothers reclaim their humanity if the world would stop trying to strip them of it. And I’d much rather be out of a job.
I work closely with postpartum doulas. They are badass healing warriors. They walk into the midst of a family in transition and plant themselves firmly — giving everyone something to hold on to. They are there to mother the mother and having one in your home can lower the incidence or severity of postpartum mental illness. They are trained. They are professional. They change the lives of families every day (and night).
They deserve more than this.
So do moms.
So do dads.
So do audiences.
MAJOR SPOILER ALERT
After publishing this piece I had some information shared with me that makes this entire thing so much worse in my opinion. The real twist is not the sex with the nanny — the real twist is that the entire character of Tully is in Marlo’s head.
Yes, she created an entire person.
As a survivor of maternal mental illness I am now LIVID. All I can think about are the survivors of postpartum psychosis, the mothers living with dissociative disorders and personality disorders, the moms living with bi-polar. They are not your fucking plot twist, Hollywood.
I will probably come back and write more when I can breathe through this anger and think more clearly, but right now I’m deeply angry.
I’m going to talk about this live on Crowdcast and I’d love to hear what you think.