While Charlize Theron is earning praise from critics for her performance in her new movie Tully, in which she plays a mother of three with postpartum depression, the film is causing controversy about its portrayal of the disorder.
(Caution: Light spoilers for Tully below.)
Some commenters are taking issue with the film’s marketing campaign, which centers around its more humorous elements with no warning that it takes a far darker turn (including a shocking twist towards the end). Others have criticized it for depicting a condition that appears to be closer to postpartum psychosis than postpartum depression, with little onscreen discussion of its severity or treatments.
Postpartum Support International president Ann Smith told the New York Times that “the mommy world is up in arms” about the film and that her nonprofit organization has been fielding complaints. “I can see why there’s a lot of anger out there, and I think they have a right to it,” she told the Times.
The film’s writer, Diablo Cody (Juno), addressed the controversy with the Times, highlighting the fact that she wrote parts of the story from her personal experiences and that she wanted to shine a light on the emotional roller coaster involved with being a mom and what happens to women who suffer from PPD — a subject not often portrayed in film.
“I do think I’m transparent about the fact that I have had mental health issues,” she said. “My heart goes out to anyone who’s dealt with this, honestly. Because it’s so ignored. 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,’ I would never presume to do that.”
Cody went on to say that the struggles of Theron’s character are meant to spark discussion.
“The movie is actually about her lack of treatment,” Cody said. “Sometimes what you’re desperate is for someone to say: ‘Hey, I actually see what’s going on here. This is serious, we need to deal with it and there’s a name for it. [Theron’s character] doesn’t get that comfort in this film. Because the film is meant to be uncomfortable.”
“It landed on my lap at a time when I think my youngest was eight months old, and so I was just kind of coming out of that not sleeping and having a newborn, and so when I read it I think it just really spoke to me,” she said. “And I realized that I had never seen anything like this on film. I felt like it came from a place that just felt like personal experience. And then after speaking to Diablo Cody I realized that this was very much a therapeutic kind of experiment for her to just write this script because she was experiencing a lot of this stuff.”
Tully is now playing in theaters.