Before Tully, the creative force behind the movie got dark with Young Adult

2 of 2

Both protagonists contend with mental health issues

Wrong. Let’s address the elephant in the room: Mavis’ fixation on getting her uninterested ex back isn’t healthy. Young Adult never explicitly names her mental illness, but it’s clear Mavis is going through something. She grows more desperate and reckless as the film progresses, and she has a habit of pulling out strands of her hair when she’s agitated. Her mother even makes a vague reference to Mavis’ mental health history.

Thankfully, Cody and Reitman never play the protagonist’s affliction as a joke. Instead, they use it as context for Mavis’ behavior. It’s not easy to like Mavis, but it’s not hard to empathize with her, either. She’s not stagnating, or regressing, on purpose. She’s going after Buddy because that’s how she’s able to make sense of her world.

Marlo, meanwhile, is experiencing an extreme bout of postpartum depression. She’s sad, irritable and overwhelmed. But the baby’s needs aren’t contingent on her mother’s mental state, so Marlo plows on and takes care of everyone as best she can — and stops sleeping in the process. Her exhaustion and sleep deprivation cause her to hallucinate, and her mind constructs Tully, Marlo’s post-college, pre-marriage self. That’s right: the night nanny who’s been helping Marlo is just a past, imaginary version of herself.

This is revealed in a twist that some have read as cheap or unnecessary. Personally, I don’t think I would’ve been less moved by Tully without the big reveal, but it still packs a wallop. The film’s depiction of Marlo’s mental state isn’t meant to be clever or convenient — it’s a reminder of how bad things can get when someone isn’t receiving the help they need.

Both pull the curtain back on the grittier, unspoken aspects of womanhood

Given Tully and Young Adult‘s treatment of personal dissatisfaction and mental illness, their unwavering honesty about the hush-hush parts of being a woman isn’t surprising. Specifically, neither film is precious about Marlo or Mavis’ day-to-day.

Take Mavis, who fancies herself a glamorous urbanite. In order to maintain her Kardashian casual look, she spends a small fortune on frequent trips to the salon and shopping sprees. She also has to use hair extensions and wears those weird gel cups instead of a bra. There’s a lot of work that goes into being effortlessly beautiful — something we don’t talk about nearly enough. Young Adult is one of the few pieces of pop culture that dares go there.

And Tully is equally brave in its representation of modern motherhood, another relative rarity onscreen. Marlo has the baby weight throughout the film and, in one instance, she’s too exhausted to even change when her son spills milk on her shirt. But Tully is also frank about the plain old monotony and grunt work that often defines domesticity. Marlo wakes up in the middle of the night to feed the baby, she changes the baby, comforts the baby, carts the other kids to school, does the laundry, makes meals and on and on. Repeat ad nauseam.

The motherhood in Tully isn’t magical or enlightening; it’s loving, but it’s also really boring. That what’s real for many women, yet most narratives are too scared to acknowledge it.

Next: 5 TV shows to binge if you love The Americans

Juno might be what Cody and Reitman are known for, but the duo started making their best work when they teamed up with Theron. Tully and Young Adult don’t play it safe. Their characters wonder whether they’re doing anything meaningful and live with mental health struggles.

The films themselves present the beauty and social standards women are held to for what they are: ridiculous and unattainable. Most significantly, the two Theron-Cody-Reitman collaborations embrace the sadder, harsher, confusing parts of lives.

Tully and Young Adult ask questions that don’t have firm answers — that’s what the best movies do. And that’s why they’ll stand the test of time. You can catch Tully in theaters now. Young Adult is available to stream on Hulu and Amazon Prime.