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In Theaters


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Kristin Smith

Movie Review

Looking for our family-friendly movie rating? Read our blog explaining our decision to remove the rating from our online movie reviews.

Marlo is exhausted.

Overworked and underpaid, as they say. Parenting three kids—including a newborn and a high-maintenance boy—is no walk in the park. I mean, Marlo’s husband helps out … kinda. But even though he’s a kind father, he still works constantly. Which means their marriage ain’t that dreamy either.

The constant demands of motherhood have changed Marlo over the years; she isn’t the same woman she used to be. Her (rich) brother notices. Which is why one day he gifts her … with a night nanny.

What’s that? Well, a night nanny comes at night. She takes care of the baby so mama can sleep. It’s a lovely gesture. But Marlo isn’t so sure she wants someone in her home, bonding with her newborn while she snoozes. It feels like admitting failure as a mother to rely on someone else for these nocturnal necessities.

But when her boy, Jonah, is asked to leave the posh school he attends (also arranged by Marlo’s rich brother), she snaps. Then she spontaneously calls the night nanny, who goes by the name of Tully. She’s a 26-year-old free spirit. She’s everything Marlo used to be: thin. Passionate. Patient. Intentional.

Marlo gives Tully space to do her job. But, night after night, bit by bit, she gets to know the young woman taking care of her baby. And she begins to see that Tully was just what she needed to find herself once again.

[Note: Spoilers are contained in the following sections.]

Positive Elements

Marlo has felt isolated and overwhelmed for years, in many ways functioning as a de facto single mom. But she’s also neglected to communicate her needs, desires and wants—especially to her husband, Drew. Tully’s arrival serves as a catalyst for mostly positive change in Marlo’s life in a number of ways.

Tully helps Marlo with commonplace chores such as cleaning, baking, cooking and taking care of her infant, allowing Marlo the space to feel refreshed and to take care of herself. Tully’s encouraging presence also invites Marlo to tell the truth about how hard things have been. Tully validates Marlo’s contributions as a mother—flawed in some ways though they may be—which is perhaps more significant than any of the actual physical needs that Tully meets.

Marlo finds that as she talks with Tully, she’s seen and heard as more than just a mother; Tully breathes new life into Marlo, who gains confidence, discovers new interests and learns how to embrace the woman she has become. Marlo now takes time to put on makeup, to work out, to respond thoughtfully instead of reacting angrily and to spend time with her children while appreciating small moments that once felt unbearable. Where there was once chaos and disorder, there is now growing peace and stability.

From start to finish, Tully shines a light onto mothers who may feel quietly bogged down by life’s demands. It shows us that everyone needs a helping hand and that parenting is not a job for just one person. When one parent is left to handle the bulk of life’s responsibilities alone, she can lose herself unhealthily along the way. Tully shows why self-care for moms is important—even when it’s difficult to give up control.

Tully also emphasizes the beauty and dignity of caring for children, day after day, year after year. It can feel grueling and boring and overwhelming; but the film says that providing the gift of stability for children is a priceless gift. Tully encourages Marlo to embrace, and to be fully present in, the mundane moments while remembering that one’s children grow a little every day and will never be quite the same as they are today.

Marlo’s husband eventually realizes that he hasn’t been fully present with his wife and family. He expresses a desire to change things so that Marlo can feel like herself once again. Marlo also tells Tully that while she and her husband may not be very connected, she still loves him and feels she made the right choice in marrying him.

Jonah is plagued with anxiety, verbal outbursts and compulsive behavior. Because of this, Marlo follows his therapist’s advice by taking the time to comb Jonah’s body with a brush (which soothes him). Jonah later tells his mother that he loves her and doesn’t need her to brush him anymore; he only needs her to be close to him, he says. Elsewhere, Jonah has a meltdown at his new school. Instead of shaming or reprimanding him, a teacher goes out of his way to make the boy feel accepted and loved. (This, in turn, makes Marlo feel accepted.)

Finally, the film wincingly depicts the harsh, unmerited judgment that many moms face. In one scene, an older woman hints that Marlo should not be drinking even decaf coffee while pregnant; when Marlo does so, the older woman shakes her head in disapproval. We also glimpse Marlo’s shame when she compares herself to other mothers whom she feels are more creative and organized and just … better. Obviously, Marlo’s insecurities aren’t a good thing; but the film does a good job of showing how much she struggles with the perecptions others have of her—an issue many moms may deal with.

Spiritual Elements

Tully says she’s having problems with her roommate, and Marlo asks if her roommate is difficult because she’s “religious.”

Sexual Content

Marlo tells Tully that she and Drew are rarely physically intimate. We also see Marlo watching an explict cable reality TV show involving male prostitutes. One scene pictures a man and woman having sex. She’s mostly clothed, the man is without a shirt, and we see movement and hear noises. He also spanks her bare backside. A conversation involves fetishes.

Marlo tells Tully she’s checked her husband’s “browser history” to find out about his sexual fantasies and porn usage. After Marlo tells Tully about his desires, Tully encourages her to “fill his battery.” But then Tully herself goes into Drew’s bedroom and intiates a sexual encounter with him—while Marlo watches right behind her, approvingly. (We only see Tully kiss his neck as the camera pans away.)

Though it seems Marlo’s fine sharing her husband with another, much younger woman (while Marlo watches), a pivotal revelation later puts that scene in a completely different perspective. We eventually learn that Tully has been a fictional creation of Marlo’s imagination all along. (Tully, we hear, was Marlo’s maiden name.) Tully was never real, but rather some idealized part of Marlo’s subconscious trying to spur her toward being a better mother as she coped with exhaustion and disallusionment. Viewed from that frame of reference, the seeming sex scene with Tully was apparently one that took place between Marlo and her husband.

Later, Marlo tells her husband he’d be better in bed if he made eye contact. At one point, Tully advises, “We can’t fix the parts without treating the whole.” Marlo responds sarcastically, “No one has treated my hole in a long time.”

Tully admits to having an open relationship with her current partner (“I’m in many relationships”) as well as having interests in both men and women. Marlo says she was the same way in her 20s, alluding to a promiscuous lifestyle back then. In fact, she confesses that she was in love with a woman for quite some time. Before it’s revealed that Tully is actually Marlo’s younger alter ego, it seems as if the two women’s affection for each other might turn in a sexual direction. (It doesn’t, obviously.)

Though it’s not shown in a sexual way, Marlo’s body as a mother is frequently depicted onscreen. While she’s still pregnant, Marlo rubs lotion on her bare, pregnant stomach. Her water breaks and drips from her pants. We see her in labor as well. In the hospital, she walks to the bathroom, and we see a close-up on her paritally exposed backside (and see that she’s wearing a post-birth diaper). She works hard to urinate so that she won’t have to have a catheter. (We see her bare legs and outer thighs.) Marlo breastfeeds (with a bare breast being shown) and uses breast-milk pumps repeatedly onscreen (though these scenes avoid nudity). She also expresses milk in a bar sink when her breasts become painfully engorged on a night out. When Marlo goes for a run, her milk leaks through her shirt leaving wet spots.

One of Marlo’s kids spills a drink at dinner, drenching mom (of course!). So she removes her shirt and finishes the meal in just her bra.

Jonah grabs his crotch (outside his clothes), and his mother asks, “Are you just being your own best friend?” Marlo tells her husband he doesn’t have “boobs,” at least not yet (a reference to his weight gain). We see Marlo’s legs in the bath. Other women (especially Tully) wear outfits revealing their stomachs and cleavage.

Violent Content

A woman is injured after a life-threatening car accident. Marlo sarcastically jokes, “I want to kill myself.” She also makes other snide comments about animals being killed and cars catching fire. Another nanny warns kids against eating chicken nuggets, graphically describing the treatment that chickens endure (including their beaks being cut off so that they can’t peck each other). The same nanny also quips about not being a murderer. Jonah’s outbursts are occasionally aggressive as he kicks his mom’s chair and struggles to calm himself.

Crude or Profane Language

God’s name is misused three times. Jesus’ name is abused twice. We hear the f-word nearly 20 times, the s-word about 10 times. “A–hole” is also used about 10 times. Other vulgarities include “d–k,” “b–tards” and “p-ssed off.”

Drug and Alcohol Content

People drink wine, sangria and hard liquor, while also making comments about drinking to excess. A woman gets very drunk at a bar (and vomits afterward). Someone drives while under the influence and eventually has an accident because of it.

Other Negative Elements

Marlo sometimes yells at her children and lashes out verbally at some adults. One such scene involves the principal at Jonah’s school, who informs Marlo that he’s being asked to leave because he is too “quirky.” Marlo, who’s furious, begins yelling profanely at the principal and accusing her of thinking Jonah is “retarded.” (She repeats this word several times).

Marlo and Drew have a tense relationship with her brother and his wife, who clearly make a lot of money. Their affluence rubs Marlo and Drew the wrong way, sometimes creating more tension and conflict. Marlo’s brother even refers to his family’s lifestyle as being “boujee.”

A childless adult woman says that life is as “cold and black as my womb.” Parents joke that having a third child is easy because you can mostly ignore the third one.


Tully was both powerful and unsettling to sit through. As a new mom, I have felt the weight that Marlo (played by Charlize Theron) feels. Sometimes you feel trapped, weighed down and as if you’ve lost your former self. Sometimes you need to go outside and scream or cry—or both. Those of us who are mothers (and parents) understand what it means to give all we have to our children while keeping up with the demands of work and life. It’s exhausting.

If we don’t intentionally set aside time to take care of ourselves, Tully suggests, we can’t love others as well, either. There’s an unspoken set of expectations that hangs over mothers, one that screams you have to do it all on your own and look put together while you’re doing it. That’s a lie, but it’s an easy one to believe. Just ask Marlo.

Perhaps that’s why the movie was so unsettling, because we eventually learn that Marlo was doing everything on her own. It led to a mental escape and, eventually, a mental breakdown.

Tully leaves much unresolved at the end, which I believe is part of the point here. Oftentimes that’s real life: We don’t talk through things, we don’t fully face our issues. I liked this film’s gritty honesty and its real portrayal of a struggling mom’s life. But some of it still felt hopeless to me. I wanted Marlo to feel relieved. I wanted her marriage to thrive. I wanted her to be filled with joy. That doesn’t really happen by the time the credits roll, even though Marlo’s arguably taking some new steps toward those ideals.

Tully honestly highlights the real struggles of parenthood—untouched by a filter. We hear Marlo’s painful confessions of loss and need, see beautiful moments of vulnerability that are portrayed with tender poignancy. This depiction deserves praise because it isn’t often that Hollywood produces a film about motherhood that so many moms in the real world could likely relate to.

For all that, though, sometimes the film’s unvarnished portrait of Marlo’s life is just painfully raw—especially when it comes to its language, its unflinching glimpses at the biological realities of motherhood and its brief focus on Marlo’s pornographic TV habits. Those content issues push this authentically relatable movie about motherhood into solidly R-rated territory.

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Kristin Smith

Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).