For their latest release, director Jason Reitman and writer by Diablo Cody, the duo behind “Young Adult,” have once again teamed up with Charlize Theron. For the role, Theron padded her svelte frame with as much as 50 extra pounds. It should be noted that the last time the actor put on noticeable weight for a role was for her Oscar-winning turn as serial killer Aileen Wuornos. This time she portrays a different kind of monster: a bad mom.
Theron is Marlo, who, when first introduced, is pregnant with her third child—a mid-life surprise. Husband Drew (Ron Livingston), when not traveling for work, helps their oldest, Sarah (Lia Frankland), with her homework but does little else around the house, leaving Marlo to deal with Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica) whose undiagnosable sensory sensitivities cause teachers and relatives to repeatedly describe him as "quirky," much to Marlo's irritation. "Do I have a kid or a f—ing ukulele?" she eventually snaps at his school's principal (Gameela Wright).
To be fair, it's not that Marlo is abusive, or even that neglectful. She's smart-alecky and stand-offish. “I have my own personal hug-buffer now,” she says of her pregnant belly, and Drew confirms she may prefer to navigate the world that way were she not aware that her mammoth belly, beyond mere baby bump, is considered obscene to some. But Marlo's biggest problem isn't that she doesn't live up to the unforgiving standards of perfection for privileged mothers; it's that she actually wants to, despite her contempt.
A chance meeting with a former roommate at the beginning of the movie informs us that a lifetime ago Marlo possessed a creative, adventurous identity that she traded for a dull, settled suburban life without much thought about the casualties of her safe choices. "Women don't heal," she laments later. They just cover the scars with makeup.
Enter Tully (Mackenzie Davis), the night nanny. She's an energetic, flat-bellied sprite who offers comfort through sibylline scientific facts and philosophical conundrums. She has the assured wisdom only one so young can possess; an attitude as pacifying, if not more, to Marlo as it is to new baby Mia. The two women have much in common, save for where they are in the chronology of their lives.
Under Tully's spell, cupcakes are baked for treats to bring to school, balanced meals are put on the table on time, flowers are arranged on the breakfast table. More important, Marlo is happier, if not exactly happy. But then the obvious, inevitable final twist—played out in a repeat of the film's pivotal scenes edited for any viewer who as yet didn't see it coming—takes it all away.