Tully angers many mothers

Swedish meatballs are based on a recipe King Charles XII brought to Sweden from Turkey in the early 18th century. Actresses (above, from left) Mackenzie Davis, Charlize Theron and writer Diablo Cody at the after-party for the premiere of Tully.
Actresses (above, from left) Mackenzie Davis, Charlize Theron and writer Diablo Cody at the after-party for the premiere of Tully.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • Tully, a movie about motherhood starring Charlize Theron that does not open in the United States until today, is already generating a heated conversation about its portrayal of postpartum depression, a subject rarely depicted onscreen.

Now Diablo Cody, the writer of the film, has addressed the controversy for the first time.

"I don't want anybody to think that I sat down and thought, 'Oh, I'll write a gripping and entertaining movie about something that I know nothing about,'" she said.

"I would never presume to do that."

Ms Ann Smith, the president of Postpartum Support International, a non-profit group, said her organisation had been fielding complaints about the film since March, when spoilers began to circulate.

"The mommy world is up in arms," she said, referring to survivors of perinatal mood disorders, which are diagnosed in one out of every seven women during pregnancy or postpartum.

"I can see why there's a lot of anger out there, and I think they have a right to it."

The film's trailer shows Theron's character, Marlo, an overburdened, sleep-deprived mother of three with a distracted husband, slogging through her pregnancy and the seemingly unending tedium of caring for a newborn.

She pumps breast milk, soothes her baby to sleep atop a humming dryer and lets out a primal scream in a parking lot. Then a night nanny named Tully shows up, promising to make it all better.

(If you don't want to know what happens in the movie, stop reading here.)

In the film's big reveal, Marlo appears to be suffering from postpartum psychosis, a rare and dangerous temporary mental illness that affects about one in 1,000 women after they give birth and requires immediate help.

Ms Diana Spalding, 35, a midwife and paediatric nurse who saw the film at an advance screening last month, said it ought to include a warning.

"They made it feel really realistic. So for someone who's struggled with postpartum depression or psychosis, it can be triggering," said Ms Spalding, who wrote a critical review that went viral.

The film paired Cody with director Jason Reitman, whom she also collaborated with on Juno (2007), a darkly funny award-winning film about an unplanned pregnancy.

Cody said writing Tully after the birth of her third son was a "deeply personal" emotional exercise.

"I do think I'm transparent about the fact that I have had mental health issues," Cody, 39, said in a phone interview.

"My heart goes out to anyone who's dealt with this, honestly. Because it's so ignored."

When asked if she had spoken with any experts on maternal mental illness before writing the script, she said she "absolutely did not" and stands by that decision.

"I have had my own experiences and my own research," she said.

One movie cannot possibly tell everyone's story, she added. "So why can't we have 10 more movies?"


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2018, with the headline 'Tully angers many mothers'. Print Edition | Subscribe