From the trailer alone, Tully has a handful of scenes that nail what parenthood is actually like. I believe a comedian once compared it to brushing your teeth while eating Oreos.

Director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody team up for another feature about the peaks and valleys of life. Their first film together, 2007’s Juno, captured the feeling of being scared and hopeful in youth. Their second effort, 2011’s Young Adult, showcases how the past can come back to haunt you. Tully pulls back the curtain on the nature of parenthood like never before. It’s both a remarkable achievement and a devastating experience by the film’s end.

Tully centers on Marlo (a sincere Charlize Theron), a mother of three — including a newborn. She is gifted with a night nanny by her eccentric brother, Craig (Mark Duplass), who recognizes how raising three children is exhausting Marlo. Our leading lady has reached the point where she doesn’t feel like her own person anymore. Her husband, Drew (Ron Livingston), is working all the time, flying to and from home.

Marlo does all the heavy lifting, including the kinds of duties parents never imagine they’ll need to do, such as brushing the skin of her 5-year-old neuro-atypical son (Asher Miles Fallica) to calm him down. When Drew gets home, he pushes through the stress of commuter parenthood, playing video games to make his evenings bearable.

The idea of a night nanny seems off to Marlo, but as we get to know the nanny, the titular Tully (a very good Mackenzie Davis), Marlo and the viewer start to feel more comfortable with it. It’s weird to invite a stranger into your house and take care of your newborn so you can get some sleep. But Marlo is drained, and when she and Drew slip into bed together, their all-is-well posture provides a bit of comedy.

Tully knows when to let the air out of the tension balloon. It’s not all crying over spilled milk. (But the moment in the film when a bag of breast milk topples over is painfully relatable.) In so many ways, the film offers sage advice about the joy in providing for someone. Third gear is a grind, but if you find a source of positivity to boost your confidence, you can return to cruise control.

Then comes the ending. Tully‘s conclusion is both commendable and a letdown. It’s commendable for completely subverting conventional expectations. It’s a letdown because it dings the film’s overall narrative.

I’m going to tiptoe around the details. The ending is a surprising turn of events that leaves you feeling a little cheated. On one hand — and mothers, I would prepare yourself for the effect this reveal might have — it tackles an issue that should find its way into more stories. However, at the same time, I can’t escape the feeling that the film didn’t have to go so big to have the impact it was aiming for. Then again, I am not a mother. I can’t completely relate to it. All I can do is look at it from a father’s (and a movie fan’s) perspective.

Ending aside, the journey is what remains most profound. Each character feels tangible, even the children, who often are sidelined in stories like this to focus more on the struggling parents. The dialogue and the conversations, chiefly the ones between Marlo and Tully, sting with authenticity. I can say I learned a lot of things about myself and my wife’s experience as a mother watching this movie.

Tully is a film that will give you many things to mull over and value, and that’s a sign of a rewarding feature.

PRESTON BARTA is a member of the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association. Read his work on FreshFiction.tv. Follow him on Twitter at @PrestonBarta.

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