TORONTO – Every five years or so, Montreal-born director Jason Reitman teams up with screenwriter Diablo Cody to take stock of their feelings and fears about life, then render their struggles with identity onto the big screen.
“We started what will hopefully be a lifetime filmmaking journey in which we are partners, in which we are telling kind of the story of our lives,” Reitman said in a recent interview at Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox theatre. “We’re around the same age, and we’re experiencing similar things.
“The idea of closing one chapter and opening another is very much on our minds.”
Both now parents, Reitman and Cody have reunited for “Tully,” set to hit theatres Friday, marking the latest instalment of a perhaps unintentional coming-of-age trilogy about extended adolescence.
The dramedy follows Charlize Theron’s beleaguered Marlo as she wades through the trials and tedium of raising two kids and a newborn, until a sprightly 26-year-old night nanny named Tully, played by Vancouver-born actress Mackenzie Davis, swoops in to take care of both mom and baby.
The writer-director duo made their joint debut in 2007 with critical darling “Juno” about a smart-mouthed teenager thrust into adulthood by an unplanned pregnancy. Their 2011 follow-up, “Young Adult,” also starred Theron as a middle-aged washout who tries to woo her teenage sweetheart away from his wife and infant.
If “Juno” is about growing up too fast, and “Young Adult” is about growing up too slow, “Tully” is about raising children while letting go of your own childhood, Reitman said.
“All three touch on this idea of not knowing where you’re supposed to be within the arc of your own life, and always feeling like you’re actually not the right time,” he said.
“When you become a parent … you start to think of your younger self as not a different time, but a different person.”
“Tully” shares the cinematic sensibility honed by Reitman and Cody in their previous collaborations, combining deadpan dialogue with heartfelt performances to tell stories of strong-willed women caught between journeys of personal growth and the introduction of a new life.
“We’re meant to say that being a parent is always a blessing … and it is, but it’s also really tough,” said Reitman.
“It really is a moment in which you have to reflect on your own life and say goodbye to a portion of your life. You kind of have to say goodbye to your childhood.”
Opening roughly a week ahead of Mother’s Day, “Tully” has been lauded by critics as an unflinching ode to motherhood, and all the screaming, spilling and sleep deprivation that entails.
But Reitman said the film isn’t really about motherhood. Rather, he said, it uses motherhood as a “location.”
“I think real humour and real humanity comes from authenticity,” said Reitman. “As a location, we want (the depiction of motherhood) to be accurate in the same way that I think James Cameron would want the Titanic to look accurate.”
To capture the first few gruelling months after giving birth, Reitman said he asked a group of young mothers to fill out a questionnaire about their own experiences looking after newborns, some of which were mined for the movie, such as when Marlo tries to rock her little one to sleep by placing the carrier on top of a tumbling clothes drier, or distractedly drops her phone on the baby during a diaper change.
At the film’s emotional core, Reitman said, is the “magical relationship” between Marlo and Tully.
In their late-night chats during breastfeeding sessions, Marlo finds in Tully the youthful curiosity that was drained from her after her attentions shifted to child-rearing, he said, and unburdens herself of the self-judgment that plagues many modern mothers.
“There’s a thrill to becoming a parent, but there’s also periods of feeling alone. And those periods of feeling alone are something that we don’t often talk about, which only makes them feel more lonely,” Reitman said.
“I hope when you watch this movie, it makes you feel less alone.”