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Much but not all of this movie’s good work is undone by its silly and unconvincing ending. A screenwriter less prestigious than the Oscar-winning Diablo Cody would probably get told to go away and come up with a third-act rewrite; as it is, the film finishes on an exasperating note, with retrospective questions about detail and plausibility. But never mind. Until then, we’d had a well-acted, wittily written and intriguing psychological drama, in which the only challenge to the suspension of disbelief had been the idea that Charlize Theron doesn’t look good.
Theron plays Marlo, a mother-of-two, heavily pregnant with a third baby. She is very stressed with her son who has behavioural problems. Her husband Drew (Ron Livingston in the central-casting standard-issue guy role) zones out in the evening and plays video games. When the baby comes, Marlo comes to the very brink of a breakdown through lack of sleep. She feels tired, useless, ugly. But then her annoying and rich brother Craig (Mark Duplass) offers her a present: hiring a “night nanny” for a month who will take the pressure off, deal with the baby all night, waking Marlo only when she needs feeds.
Initially, Marlo is resistant – “That’s like a Lifetime movie where the nanny tries to kill the family and the mom survives and she has to walk with a cane at the end.” But she relents, and the nanny, called Tully (Mackenzie Davis) is an absurdly pretty, thin, carefree young woman who handles the enforced intimacy with practised ease and has a brilliant flair for working with the baby that goes beyond mere professionalism. She becomes a best friend to the awestruck Marlo, who is entranced by Tully’s polyamorous lifestyle. Tully herself seems to intuit and heal everything that is wrong in Marlo’s family life. The stakes get higher when she candidly offers a psycho-surrogacy role-play solution to Marlo and Drew’s sex problems.
Marlo’s prophetic joke about that Lifetime movie presumably refers to Curtis Hanson’s The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992) with Rebecca DeMornay as the parasitic nanny from hell. But the point is that Tully or DeMornay or Mary Poppins herself have an outsider’s experience for seeing what is hidden from those locked in the family unit.
Cody’s writing is reliably good, and director Jason Reitman, who worked with Cody and Theron on Young Adult (2011) handles the material with an easy swing. He has a great “baby feed” montage that reproduces the leaden and yet pitilessly quick and unrelenting rhythms of getting up over and over again in the night to feed the baby, dealing with the used nappies, collapsing back into bed. But when Marlo begins to recover from her exhaustion and catatonic depression due to Tully’s ministrations, she confides: “I can see colour again.”
Davis has exactly the right borderline-strange happiness and charm; rather as in Noah Baumbach’s comedy While We’re Young (2014), she portrays how exotic and alien twentysomethings seem to careworn parents and how jealous these oldsters are, not merely of the young people’s sexiness, innocence and strength, but of the way their unimpeded mental capabilities make them cleverer and wiser than the old.
If only that ending was better. But Theron and Davis make a great couple: a mistress-servant relationship in which the only problem is the servant’s perfection.
Source: The Guardian
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