The rainy and bleak opening scene in a graveyard introduces the shabby 30-something Mary Bailey as she leaves a grave and drives to a building where she meets the Therapist.
Through a series of flashbacks, Mary hesitantly tells her sad story. At first, Mary is wary but the Therapist reassures her that she is not losing her mind. As Mary and the Therapist warm to each other, Mary begins to describe her hostile workplace by flashback. Her brusque and unsympathetic boss,Hal, is admonishing her for poor performance and absenteeism. Mary sits quietly in pain with a pounding headache.
When the Therapist asks about her home life, the flashback shows Mary at work, calling home where Mike is rifling through their kitchen cabinets to find money which Mary had apparently hidden there. Mike tells her that Lily ran to her grandmothers house. He complains about medical bills and hangs up. The Therapist learns that Lily is from a previous abusive marriage and Mary has no idea where the father is. When asked about whether Lily is in danger with the present relationship, Mary becomes very defensive, especially when the Therapist asks about abuse from Mike.
She tells the Therapist about not having any real friends at work, other than Lola, a histrionic flirty young woman who always has a new boyfriend. Mary is cautious since she suspects Lola is close to Hal.
When asked about her headaches, Mary, through a flashback reveals her frustrating experiences with her family doctor, who is apparently insensitive to Mary's needs for relief of her headache pain. This lack of poor medical care, along with the severe headaches, has consequences later in the story. Mary relates another event where Hal is getting more paranoid and accusatory and is shredding documents.
The Therapist probes further into the home situation and Mary flashes back to her current dysfunctional marriage where Mike is drunk and Lily is crying in her room. She is harassed by a phone calls from Darla, her mother, as well as her sister, Claire. They want to be sure she was still working, since Mary supports both of them. The Therapist gets Mary to tell her about Mike and his character issues, and Mary finds herself telling the Therapist about the son which she and Mike had early in their marriage and how she found him dead in his crib.
Mary continues to reveal how Mike's personality and drinking had deteriorated since that time and she flashes back on a threatening scene where he tells her he was fired from another construction job. He later tells her he sold his truck and now he wants her car. This is the first time she stands up to him, albeit fearfully.
The Therapist continues to skillfully probe and another flashback appears. Mary is at work and Lily calls her from Darla's house, afraid to stay at home because Mike is drunker and meaner than usual. Mary prepares herself, taking a heavy object from her desk and putting it into her purse. She arrives home, finds Mike drinking and they begin to argue. He becomes more threatening and when he appears ready to strike her. She pulls back and reaches into her purse. An audible 'click' indicates that she has one of Mike's pistols. He hastily retreats. She tells the Therapist that she knew a change was needed but she did not know how to make it happen and leaves the darkened therapy office.
In real-time, Mary is walking with Darla and telling her about how she is divorcing Mike and Darla begins to get more somber. Later on, when leaving the house at night, Mary is accosted by Mike, asking for money and she stands up to him again. Mary remains desperate about her headaches and Lola recommends a 'healer'.
The 'healer', is a comical stereotypical quack, pretending to understand Mary’s problems and attributes them to 'toxins' in her body, which he plans to remove with a bottle of pills he rolled across her abdomen. He is also interested in laying his hands on Mary, which she rejects with disgust. She takes the bottle of pills with her.
Back at work, as Mary is apologizing for more missed days from work, Hal reminds her of how sensitive her work is and that she will be fired for any further absenteeism.
She returns home to find Mike moving his stuff out of the house, with a 'bimbo' waiting in her car. It is a very threatening confrontation and she locks him out if the house as he leaves with the woman waiting in the car. She sits down and visibly considers her situation and how part of it seemed to solve itself, in a sequence of multiple visible emotions.
Mary is sent by the Therapist to a specialist who
helps her headaches. Life is improving as she is getting less pressure
from and Mike is out of her life. Her happiness is short-lived when Claire
hysterically calls to tell her that their mother killed
Mary goes into a profound downward spiral and she loses her job and begins to realize she is truly alone, except for Lily. She is essentially deserted by Lola and Mary's parasitic sister Claire, who has a borderline personality disorder. Lily is undergoing her own changes as she experiences loss for the first time and begins to worry about losing Mary as well.
In her desperate state, Mary discovers her own inner strength and becomes a strong defender of herself and Lily. She deals with the issues of loss in herself and also in Lily who misses her grandmother. Mary finds new confidence and strength as she overcomes obstacles and takes control of her life.
By the end of the film, Mary has transformed herself
from a shabby depressed waif in the opening graveyard scene to a beautiful,
confident and strong woman with a completely new life and new relationships
for herself and Lily.