Pam Powell: Q&A with director Jason Reitman

May 5, 2018

“Tully” opens this weekend after premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival recently to rave reviews, including my own.

The film depicts Marlo, a wife and mother of two demanding children and a newborn, who succumbs to her wealthy brother’s offer of hiring a “night nanny.” Never before have the raw and honest emotions associated with not only motherhood, but life in general, been so eloquently portrayed.

Starring Charlize Theron and Mackenzie Davis, this is Cody Diablo’s third film, all having been directed by the award-winning and Oscar-nominated director, Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air”). I had the privilege of talking with Reitman this week while he visited Cody’s hometown of Chicago.

Pamela Powell (PP): I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film that so honestly depicts motherhood and this stage in life.

Jason Reitman (JR): I don’t think anyone could have written these scripts but her. Certainly a guy couldn’t have, but I’m not sure if anyone else could have. ... And she does this in this purist writing form where she just sits down and writes. ...She wrote the script in six weeks.

PP: Wow! So you didn’t write your scripts in six weeks?

JR: No! It took me seven years to write “Up in the Air!” She sits down and writes, and it just kind of comes out of her, she literally gives birth to these scripts.

PP: Did you have any hesitation with sitting in the director’s chair as a man telling this woman’s story?

JR: Diablo and I have been on this journey for over a decade now and all three films have centered around women. ... I feel like motherhood is the location for the film, but the plot is about something larger, something that connects all three of the films. We all never feel quite sure whether or not we’re at the right moment in our own time lines.

I [also] created this questionnaire and gave to 10 mothers, friends of mine and said, ”Look, we want this film to be as accurate as possible. We want men and women to look on screen and see themselves up there.” ... This [questionnaire] was about how pregnancy and childbirth had affected their relationship with their husband, sexuality, communication, all the other important stuff that we wanted to be accurate about as well.

PP: The film is funny and Charlize has amazing comedic timing which is totally unexpected.

JR: Charlize is really funny. ... We were at the Oscars, and she literally pulled me aside and told me a dark joke and I had this immediate realization that oh, you’re one of us. Starting with “Young Adult,” we found that there was this voice that was hiding inside her, this really sneaky, dark, funny voice.

PP: The kids are amazing, but you know what they say about working with children.

JR: That’s the scariest piece of casting. ... You need young people with strong interior lives that are kind of ready to come out. ... Everything that was going on in their hearts and brains they just kind of shared with us and it worked.

PP: The scene of Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica) kicking the seat and Sarah (Lia Frankland) yelling and screaming in the car was unbelievably real. How, as a director, did you accomplish this?

JR: I mean, really tricky, right? Being playful in a kind of rowdy, angry way is a very hard thing to fake. ... The other thing, instead of being specific and saying, “I want you to kick the chair over and over,” you have to talk to them about emotions you want them to feel.

PP: The James Bond song “You Only Live Twice” is spot-on perfect. I never listen to lyrics, but this one hit home.

JR: I’m in the same boat as you. I never listen to lyrics, but this is a song I’ve always known the lyrics to. It’s heartbreakingly beautiful and, I’ve always thought of that as kind of a sad song — the truth in not being able to live twice.

Reitman went on to explain that the actress Kaitlyn Dever (“Detroit”), who is in his upcoming film “Frontrunner,” recorded the song in her living room with another actress on an iPhone. And that’s the version you hear.