Monday, May 14, 2018

Celebrating motherhood, without the schmaltz

Poor mothers.

Not only are they constantly taken for granted, but when there is a day designed to celebrate them, it can't help but seem too earnest by half. Similarly, a movie whose goal is to praise the everyday sacrifices of the female parent can't help but invoke thoughts of the Hallmark Channel, and other ideas of hopelessly precious schmaltz.

Fortunately, Jason Reitman's Tully is something of an antidote to all that.

For one, it doesn't actually characterize itself as a celebration of motherhood, though I don't know how you could get to the end of the movie and not see it as that. It doesn't actually say it, though, which is a useful distinction that helps the movie feel a bit less blatant in its intentions.

Then it has a bit of a high-concept element to it involving the impact of a night nurse on the life of Charlize Theron's main character, a mother who has just given birth to her third child. This is another layer of distraction from the fact that you're essentially watching a portrait of an everyday hero and the toll her everyday heroism takes on her.

Then it's written by Diablo Cody, a writer with a natural instinct for sarcasm who'd probably prefer to write dog food commercials than to deliver dialogue whose only layer of interpretation would be pedantic earnestness.

So in Tully you've got a movie that actually kind of starts out on shaky footing, that I actually thought was heading toward a negative review from me before I realized what it was up to, and how shrewdly it was up to it. And, as I said in my eventual review, it's the kind of movie that made me want to go home and do the dishes.

I'm not sure how Reitman pulled off, especially since he wouldn't deserve to actually tell this story under some of our more strict viewpoints of representation, but the movie comes off as a powerful reminder of what the women in our lives do for us, especially those of us husbands and fathers who are just trying to figure out how to pass the time until our games are on TV. We don't mean to be doing our jobs in a perfunctory way, but sometimes we do anyway.

Mothers can't afford to be perfunctory. They remember to enroll children in swim classes and after school programs. They know which foods you're not allowed to pack in a school lunch. They're aware of when all the forms are due and all the inoculations are needed. They instinctively understand which psychology is effective on a child and which is counterproductive. They get up in the night when the kids need something, because pretending they don't hear it and sleeping through it (as a dad will do) is just not an option.

I've been guilty of all types of benign neglectfulness as a parent, but my wife never has. That's because she's a great mother and because excuses don't fly when it's something as important as your kids.

Tully reminded me of all that without having to scold me about it, and it's one of those movies with the potential to have an actual profound effect on how I live my life. And how I help those closest to me, the ones who depend on me, live theirs.

Because though they depend on me, they need my wife. Without what she brings to our family, we'd all be lost.

So if you're reading this in the early part of the day on Mother's Day in the U.S., and you're wondering about a film that might bring you into the spirit of the day, Tully is your choice. And it's an easy one.

And it's not even necessarily a great choice for your wife. She'd nod along, sure, but she's lived it.

You? You need to understand how great she is, and Tully will help you do that.

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