A Look on the Lighter Side: Choosing truth over beauty, in “Tully” and “I Feel Pretty”

Judy Epstein

Sometimes, women complain about the lack of realistic films with strong female characters. I have been known to make such comments, myself.

But right now, there are at least two great character-driven films in local theaters.

In “I Feel Pretty,” comedian Amy Schumer plays a young single woman, Renee Bennett, who is stuck in a dead-end job in a basement in Manhattan’s Chinatown, doing the website for an upscale, upmarket cosmetics company based in the very uptown Fifth Avenue.

When Renee isn’t trying to make the lipstick colors on the website match the real thing, she is at home with her girlfriends, sharing pilfered samples of make-up until they achieve a perfect-enough group photo to send to a group-dating site.

It seems that, in the years since my departure from the field of combat, dating life has grown ever more superficial.

Before there can even be a first date, there must be the perfect photo. Nowadays, beauty isn’t even skin deep — it is only photon-deep.

One day, while striving to lose weight and become a beautiful person by joining the herd of folks exercising at SoulCycle, Schumer’s character finds a finds a magical short-cut: she falls off, hits her head, and wakes up as a thinner, “hotter,” totally gorgeous version of her self.

The gimmick is that she looks no different to anyone but herself; but her new attitude and self-confidence are so convincing that she makes her own luck, zooming ahead in her work life, and dating — at least, for a while.

Of course, the magic must eventually run out; Cinderella’s clock eventually hits midnight; and Schumer’s character hits her head once again, this time in the all-glass bathroom of a ritzy Boston hotel where the company has sent her for a marketing trip.

Somehow, Schumer finds a way to make it all work.

The bonus for me is that now I’ve survived a number of SoulCycle sessions with Schumer — complete with the overwhelming thump of musical beat and shouted inspirational lecture — I can take a pass on the real thing.

Charlize Theron has starred in more movies than I can name.

But until now, I have associated her with such fare as “Mad Max: Fury Road” where she is Imperator Furiosa, and “Monster,” where she plays a prostitute-turned-serial killer.

So imagine my surprise to find her a completely warm, believable suburban housewife and mom in the movie “Tully.”

Theron’s character, Marlo, is nearing the end of her pregnancy with her third child — a time when looking like a blimp and having complete strangers question your food and coffee choices are just the start of the fun.

Add two other elementary-school-age children, including one who seems to be on the autism spectrum (though no one ever utters the word).

Now add a husband who is no help at all. He seems nice enough — but he walks into the house at the end of the day with critiques of dinner: “Frozen pizza?”

His cluelessness gets even worse when the baby arrives: he spends evenings in bed with headphones on, playing video games, utterly oblivious to his wife’s sleep-deprived life.

I have never seen any film, anywhere, that so brilliantly depicted the exhausting blur which is life with a new baby.

As Marlo explains to a younger friend, “Your twenties are great. But then your thirties come around the corner like a garbage truck at 5 am.”

If you replace the word “thirties” in that sentence with “motherhood,” it would perfectly describe Marlo’s predicament.

It is this situation which prompts Marlo’s better-off brother to pay for the assistance of a “night nanny” — a young woman in her twenties named “Tully” — so the new parents can get some sleep.

I found a lot to like in both movies — including the fact that, one way or another, each finds a path to a decent ending. As for favorite scenes, I have many, but perhaps best, from “Tully,” were all the ones demonstrating how not-fun it can be to breast-feed.

From Schumer’s “I Feel Pretty,” I’d choose an early scene where she is practically chased out of a fancy clothing store by a snooty saleswoman who warns her she needn’t waste time there, since she’ll only find her size in the online catalog.

I salute both Amy Schumer and Charlize Theron for being willing to look exhausted; out of shape; not rail-thin; and human. Both play interesting characters. And both are well worth your time.

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Judy Epstein

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