Some Moms Aren't Happy With How 'Tully' Depicts Maternal Mental Health


Editor’s note: This post contains spoilers for the movie “Tully.”

“Tully” is being pitched to audiences as a realistic and relatable ode to being a mom. But this expectation is leaving some viewers disappointed, and even angry, about how the movie’s plot unfolds.

The trailer shows Marlo (Charlize Theron) navigating life as an exhausted mother of three. At one point someone asks if she’s considered getting a night nurse. Enter Tully (Mackenzie Davis), the supposed night nurse, who helps Marlo take care of the kids, all while telling Marlo she should be taking care of herself, too.

After a series of dramatic events, it’s revealed Tully isn’t real. It’s not clear whether Marlo is imagining Tully as some kind of coping mechanism or if she’s really experiencing a hallucination. For many experts and mothers who’ve experienced postpartum disorders, that murkiness — and how it differs from the film’s promotion — is the exactly the problem.

“The film’s trailer marketed it as an emotion-packed comedy for moms. When I read about the plot twist, I felt misled. If a movie deals with mental health issues, I think the marketing should reflect the real content,” mother and writer Sarah Whitman, told The Mighty. “If Stephen King’s ‘IT’ was marketed as a fun movie about clowns, that would be uncool.”

In a piece Whitman wrote called, “Postpartum Psychosis Is No Joke: Why I Won’t Be Seeing the Movie Tully,” she explained why she and other moms were disappointed by the plot twist.

Plot twists are fine in, say, an M. Night Shyamalan film or Fight Club, but this is a movie being marketed as mirroring a realistic motherhood experience. For months, the advertising has attracted moms seeking a dose of all the feels. In my mom groups, friends set up events to go see it. These are women interested in fun and a stress-free night out, some of whom are even struggling with actual postpartum depression…  I feel betrayed by the makers of Tully. I feel slighted.

Ann Smith, the president of Postpartum Support International, called the film a squandered opportunity. While she did not see the film personally, her organization was getting so many complaints they sent two postpartum disorder experts to pre-screen the movie.

They found the movie was well done, but thought the depiction of the implied-but-not-named postpartum disorder lacked.

“Of course, we acknowledge those early months of parenting are hard and fraught with worry — but that is not a prenatal mood disorder,” Smith told The Mighty. “They blur the lines to make people think this is just what motherhood is.”

According to Postpartum Support International, 15 percent of women experience significant depression following childbirth. In only one or two out of a 1,000 childbirths, the mother will develop postpartum psychosis. And while postpartum psychosis is treatable, it’s also serious. In a piece called, “5 Destructive Myths About Postpartum Psychosis,” Mighty contributor and speaker Lisa Abramson wrote from her own personal experience with postpartum psychosis:

Most women who experience postpartum psychosis do not harm themselves or anyone else. Many women experiencing psychosis are in fact trying to protect their babies from imagined danger. Immediate treatment is necessary for this serious illness because your judgment is impaired and you are experiencing a break from reality, but it is completely treatable and temporary for those who get professional help quickly.

In “Tully,” it’s unclear whether Marlo receives mental health treatment. After a drunk driving accident lands Marlo in the ER, her husband (Ron Livingston) and a doctor discuss depression. But ultimately, the only conclusion drawn is that her husband should be spending more time at home. 

“Tully’s” screenwriter, Diablo Cody, told the New York Times the movie was supposed to make you uncomfortable. “The movie is actually about her lack of treatment,” she said, “Marlo doesn’t get that comfort in this film.” She also said she wasn’t involved in editing the trailer.

Smith said anyone might be sensitive to topics surrounding postpartum psychosis might want to skip the movie or see it with a trusted friend or family member. She wants people to remember that feeling severely depressed or experiencing hallucinations is not a “normal” part of motherhood — and that help and treatments are available.

“Here’s the good news,” Smith wrote in a blog for Postpartum Support International. “While ‘Tully’ may have blurred some important elements, it presents all of us with an opportunity to share our stories and get informed about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. The questions raised in ‘Tully’ are nuanced and complex, and I hope it prompts a nationwide discussion to finally bring these issues out of the shadows.”

“Tully” hits theaters Friday, May 4. For more information about postpartum psychosis, check out the links below:

Postpartum Support International – Postpartum Psychosis 

What Is Postpartum Psychosis?

Postpartum Psychosis Symptoms (in Plain Mama English)

Lead image via Tully’s Facebook page


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