Two wildly diverse—wildly, crazily, extremely, astonishingly, obviously diverse—films that are, essentially, about the trials and tribulations, ups and downs, highs and lows, positives and negatives, and the general emotional ride of motherhood will be in the movie theaters for this Mother’s Day weekend of 2018, May 11-13, 2018: the dramatic, serious, highly-emotional, starkly realistic domestic drama “Tully,” and the flat-out comedic popcorn movie mass-appeal comedy “Life of the Party.” These movies do touch on the subject of motherhood, but lawdy momma, they could not be more different. Both are recommended, enjoyable films—again, on wildly different levels, neither are great films, but they are worth seeing to consider several of the major themes and messages that are presented in both movies. Happy Mother’s Day!


Starring Charlize Theron, Ron Livingston, Mackenzie Davis, Mark Duplass
Written by Diablo Cody
Directed by Jason Reitman
Produced by Aaron L. Gilbert, Jason Reitman, Helen Estabrook, Diablo Cody, Mason Novick, Charlize Theron, A. J. Dix, Beth Kono
Cinematography by Eric Steelberg
Edited by Stefan Grube
Music by Rob Simonsen


The domestic drama “Tully,” written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman and the fourth collaboration between Cody and Reitman, may not be an easy ride for many folks, but the film is above-average, intelligent, worthwhile, intelligent, recommended, and a smart, well-written, well-directed and extremely-well-acted film about motherhood, parenthood, marriage, domestic life, the relationships between parents and kids, the relationships between moms and kids, the relationships between husbands and wives, the relationships between fathers and kids, and, basically, the film is a highly-charged, highly-emotional domestic drama about the realities of all of these areas and everyday life.

The film is worth seeing just for the various, deep, smart messages, morals, lessons and themes that Cody, Reitman and the superb cast team together to present. And these messages and themes are presented in a very straightforward, very direct, at times very realistic manner—a serious, realistic manner that could strike too close to home, too close to emotional nerves and hearts, and too close to people’s own lives to enjoy on a consistently positive manner. But you know that? It’s that directness, that honesty, that pure emotion that comes through in every scene in “Tully”—no matter how uncomfortable that may be for some people—that makes this film so good, so smart—and so worth-seeing. Sometimes, people need to look directly into the film mirror—or the television mirror, book mirror or theater mirror—and see a clear, unobstructed, unfiltered reflection of themselves, their real lives, and the real messages, lessons and themes that lie behind that face staring back in the mirror. Yes, sometimes some films strike hard very close to home and close to the heart—which is what “Tully” does, from start to finish—and good for those films!

That said, “Tully” is also a movie that is smart, insightful and film-aware enough to also be thoroughly entertaining while also presenting those stark, direct, honest domestic, relationship, marriage, parenthood, motherhood and family realities. There are moments of humor, comedic relief, love, life and laughter, amid the more serious moments. “Tully” is an honest look at life through the mind, eyes and heart of a tired, world-weary, family-weary, sleepless and stressful mom, Marlo, excellently and wonderfully portrayed by Charlize Theron. This is yet another bravado, brave and exceptional dramatic performance by Theron, who dominates this film from start to finish. When Marlo gets angry, boy, do you feel her anger. When Marlo gets depressed, you are right there with her. And when Marlo is just completely fed up, stressed out, feeling hopeless—despite the actual good life that she really does have—you are right there with her. Theron delivers a direct, honest, emotionally-charged, powerhouse performance that anchors the film, the story, and the attendant messages mentioned above. Theron simply delivers a performance that deserves to be seen—and praised—in “Tully.”

Marlo is so exasperated and stressed-out—she has a caring husband, a nice house and two kids, and she’s pregnant with a third kid—but, as can happen in life, something is still missing. With one of her kids battling a developmental disability, her husband away on work trips often and an emptiness in her life because she’s currently drifting along and living in a sad, prolonged funk of despair, desperation, loneliness—despite her family—and emptiness, Marlo decides to hire a night nanny—a young nanny who comes to the house, helps with everything at night, helps with the kids and stays overnight—to help her cope. Marlo and the nanny, Tully, soon develop an amazing, productive and encouraging friendship that changes Marlo’s life.

Marlo’s husband, Drew, wonderfully played by a restrained, grounded, subtle Ron Livingston—who plays these types of laid-back, down-to-earth, lovable characters so well, he’s had a respectable career playing these kind, caring men, even including his breakthrough performance in “Office Space”—supports the idea of the night nanny, and supports Marlo and Tully. Drew is a likeable, even lovable man, but he’s also somewhat helpless in helping his wife, whom he does love, and he also has to travel often for his job. So he fully supports the idea of the night nanny.

Soon, Marlo, Tully, Drew and their circle of friends and family all evolve, develop and emotionally grow to the point where everyone soon learns several valuable lessons about the many aforementioned subjects. Watching Theron’s Marlo, Mackenzie Davis’ equally excellent portrayal of Tully, and Livingston’s Drew navigate and maneuver and endure the emotional ride that is “Tully” is enjoyable, educational, and continually insightful and perceptive.

Cody and Reitman clearly know what they are doing in their craft—the writing and direction control this film. Cody’s sharp, realistic, direct and honest dialogue, story, plot and subplot—along with his well-crafted story development and character development—are so intelligent, so realistic, so honest, anyone will relate—not just moms. But moms, especially, will connect overwhelmingly with Marlo’s plight in “Tully”—at its core, “Tully” is indeed a story about motherhood and being a mom, with all that that includes. Cody and Reitman manage to reach, explore, dissect, analyze and present so many basic, core foundations and elements of motherhood, everyone will connect to the story, to Marlo, to Drew, to Tully—and to the movie.

This mother’s day weekend, definitely go see “Tully”—and, while you’re at it, please tell your mom that you love her. As a mom should, she’ll understand.


Starring Melissa McCarthy, Molly Gordon, Matt Walsh, Julie Bowen, Luke Benward, Jimmy O. Yang, Heidi Gardner, Debby Ryan, Gillian Jacobs, Maya Rudolph, Stephen Root, Jacki Weaver
Written by Ben Falcone, Melissa McCarthy
Directed by Ben Falcone
Produced by Ben Falcone, Melissa McCarthy, Chris Henhy
Cinematography by Julio Macat
Edited by Brian Olds
Music by Fil Eisler


“Life of the Party,” interestingly, could not be more entirely, crazily, hilariously different than “Tully”—but, operating on a completely different level of the movie time space continuum, this ultimately uplifting, positive, funny—and optimistic—movie succeeds, despite itself. Yes, there are scenes that are clearly cliched and derivative and borrowed and obvious and predictable and unoriginal—but “Life of the Party” manages to overcome all of this, the movie manages to succeed, and the movie manages to actually be funny, actually be entertaining, actually be worth seeing, and, ultimately, actually sends a few worthwhile, intelligent messages and themes about parenthood, motherhood, female empowerment, middle age travails, education, family and relationships of its own. Everything is entirely, completely operating on another plain of movie existence than “Tully,” but the credit goes out to McCarthy—who is the lead actor in just about every scene, the co-writer and a co-producer—and co-writer, director and co-producer Ben Falcone, who overcome all of the movie’s pitfalls to produce a nice, caring, positive comedy.

McCarthy wonderfully, honestly and somewhat realistically plays a recently-divorced, middle-aged, caring and devoted mom, Deanna Miles, and her portrayal in “Life of the Party” is actually one of McCarthy’s best movie roles—really. Deanna is grounded, nice, caring, a woman of her own, and smart—she’s still funny, don’t worry, but here, in this movie, it’s a more mature and assured and confident style of funny for McCarthy, as opposed to many of her previous, very broad and very singular character roles. Deanna comes across as a real person here—relatable, likeable and even lovable. Deanna is her own woman, she is self-assured, and she is tough, independent and intent on proving herself, despite her husband, Dan, of twenty-three years, played by Matt Walsh as a horrible, cowardly, moronic weasel—Walsh excels with these types of characters, and that’s a compliment—abruptly telling her that he wants a divorce and he’s dating the town’s resident witch of a woman, played as just a terrible b-word person by Julie Bowen.

Instead of wallowing in despair and self-pity, Deanna seizes the moment and decides that her newly-found freedom grants her the chance to finish her final college year and get her archeology degree—alongside her senior-year daughter, a beautiful, lovely and also-lovable Maddie, played by the very-cute Molly Gordon.

And everything that follows—Molly’s mom actually going back to school, moving into the dorm, hanging out with her daughter and her daughter’s friends at Maddie’s sorority house, going to college parties, interacting with college kids who are half her age or more, giving oral presentations, studying, living with a Gothic hermit roommate (Leonor, hilariously played by Heidi Gardner in a role that actually could have been expanded and given more screen time), getting drunk and stoned along with the kids—is, as noted, entirely predictable and cliched.

However, McCarthy’s winning performance; funny and spirited performance from a stellar ensemble cast of talented comedic performers—Gillian Jacobs, who steals many scenes as one of Maddie’s sorority friends; Stephen Root; Maya Rudolph; Luke Benward; and others—and Falcone’s controlled, down-to-earth, more caring and more PG-13 direction; and the positive, caring and even nurturing manner and style of McCarthy’s and Falcone’s script, somehow lifts up “Life” to being a filmic life of the party. It’s most likely that continual positive, encouraging, caring and optimistic nature of the story and script and much of the dialogue that gives “Life” its endearing nature. Instead of Deanna being a comedic punching bag, she’s instead a powerhouse middle-aged college student, demonstrating that she can live on campus, socialize, party and study and go to class with kids half her age, that she can learn and work hard on her degree, that she can succeed at new relationships, and that she can even—nicely, positively—teach these kids a few productive things about life, learning, education, motherhood, parenthood and standing up for themselves. Instead of the classic older-student outsider stance, Deanna instead ingratiates herself to the kids on campus, to her daughter—where a nice, evolving relationship of trust and understanding occurs, which is really nice, to her daughters friends, who actually look to Deanna for advice and friendship, and, yes, Deanna even ingratiates herself crazily to a young, tall, dark and handsome college hunk and stud dude, Jack, who is confidently, happily and warmly played by Luke Benward. Deanna actually becomes a campus role model, an educator herself, a new type of mom to her daughter—and, well, the life of the party.

McCarthy and Falcone also know that they’re presenting a comedy here, too, and the laughs are consistent, cheap but still funny, cliched but still funny, broad a few times but still funny, flat-out funny, and, at times, even a bit envelope-pushing. Imagine Maddie, being a college student coming out of your room after a night with your boyfriend and running into your mom—who’s coming also coming out of a room across the hall after a night with Jack, who’s young enough to be her son! That scene is one of several that in lesser acting and directorial hands could have ended up flat and cringy, but Falcone, McCarthy and the spirited, funny cast make these scenes work.

In another entirely borrowed scene, McCarthy’s Deanna and Deanna’s best friend, a constantly-drinking, somewhat-eccentric Christine funnily played by Maya Rudolph, play a game of racquetball holding drinks, constantly catching their breath, and barely able to play the game—a scene that is 100 percent borrowed, lifted and stolen from just about the exact scene with Tom Hanks and John Candy in “Splash.” But McCarthy and Falcone make it work.

Even the basic premise—a middle-aged parent going back to school—has been done to death. There was, well, Rodney Dangerfield’s funny “Back to School,” and Adam Sandler visited this theme in one of his films, “Billy Madison.” And there was Will Ferrell going back to college and streaking down the street in “Old School.” And who knows how many other movies and television shows have visited this basic story. But McCarthy and Falcone make it work.

There is one major plot point that doesn’t quite work, but the movie includes this story element on such a huge, grand level, well, filmgoers will just have to swallow, take a breath, go along with it, and enjoy it. In the spirit of this film, somehow, McCarthy and Falcone even make this particular plot point work to their advantage.

Does anyone doubt that Deanna and Maddie re-kindle and improve upon their mother-daughter relationship, Deanna graduates from college with a newfound confidence, respect for herself and improved outlook on life, that Dan gets his comeuppance, that the college kids come to respect, like, care about—and even love—Deanna, and that audiences will actually be smiling on the way the door of “Life of the Party?” It’s no spoiler to say that “Life of the Party” ends on a funny, happy, positive note, and, as noted, it’s that consistent optimism, happiness and positivity that help propel this gentle, caring and fun comedy along, and helps this movie to somehow succeed in providing just a good, funny time at the movies.

So cheers to McCarthy for giving the world a newfound feminist hero mom who finds her way in life and overcomes her troubles in a mature, smart and funny manner, and along the way also gives some positive, encouraging hope to moms of all ages. And cheers to McCarthy and Falcone for presenting this gentle empowerment in a funny movie released just in time for Mother’s Day.

This mother’s day weekend, definitely go see “Life of the Party”—and, while you’re at it, once again, please tell your mom that you love her. As a mom should, she’ll understand–again.

John Hanshaw

John Hanshaw

founded WFI in the Fall of 2007. He has worked in film and television for over ten years at such institutions as NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation), PBS and most recently National Geographic. He has degrees from Amherst College, Cambridge University, and GW Law.