Director - Sian Heder
Cast - Ellen Page, Allison Janney, Tammy Blanchard, David Zayas, Zachary Quinto, Uzo Aduba
Rating - 3/5
Talllulah lies. Tallulah steals. Tallulah kidnaps. Tallulah has nowhere to go. Tallulah has no place to call home. Tallulah drifts, from one seedy gas station to another, accompanied by her boyfriend, as the world around her leaves her behind. When Nico abandons her, as you sense many others in her life have, our movie begins.
Abandonment, and the wake of devastation it leaves behind, is the theme that binds Tallulah, the new film by Sian Heder, who’s best known for her work on Netflix’s Orange is the New Black. It’s her first feature film, and like many other first time directors who’ve come before her, her reach often exceeds her grasp.
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Ellen Page is Tallulah. It seems like it was years ago that she was Juno, and while she stills looks like an aimless high schooler, her performances, like her characters, have matured. Here, she is heartbreaking. As clichéd as her Tallulah is – and let’s face it, she’s basically the same lost, rebellious stock-character we’ve seen so many times before (pick any Kristen Stewart role from the last few years) - it’s Page’s sympathetic performance that sets her apart.
Like hundreds of characters before her, Tallulah finds herself, lost in New York City. On an impulse, she takes – she doesn’t kidnap – the baby of a spoilt, rich, trainwreck of a woman. With no one to turn to, she ends up at the door of Nico’s mother, played by Allison Janney.
It’s a Juno reunion of sorts, but this time, they’re both adrift. It doesn’t matter that one of them is, and always has been, of the streets, and the other has lived a life of privilege in her Manhattan apartment – they’ve both been abandoned. And that’s what brings them together.
But here is where the problem lies. You see, while it’s not being a quirky indie movie like something Nicole Holofcener or Lynn Shelton might’ve directed, it’s still – and we cant ignore the gravity of this plot element – a story of a child’s kidnapping. And so every time the film cuts to the investigation and small-scale manhunt that is being staged to locate Tallulah and the baby, it shifts tones quite abruptly.
So essentially, Sian Heder has directed two movies. And she’s equally in command with either one, which is an encouraging sign for whatever she does next. But a part of me wanted her to take the plunge and be brave, like her characters. This is a movie about people finding the courage to finally make decisions that will save them from the lives they’re living, and it’s frustrating when the movie itself shies away, after showing signs of more ambition.
It’s great to see Netflix stay in the Sundance business after their Adam Sandler flirtation (which unfortunately hasn’t ended), and this movie is a solid entry to their slate of original acquisitions after the very pleasant The Fundamentals of Caring.
Tallulah, the movie, works more often than it doesn’t. And whenever it shows any signs of fumbling, the cast elevates it. Allison Janney is incapable of delivering a bad performance. I challenge you to find one.
“We’re all terrible, and we’re all just people,” she says at one point. It’s a moment of stark, brutal honesty. Most of us have convinced ourselves that it’s never our fault. How could it be? We’ve been nothing but honest and sincere to everyone we’ve ever encountered. But that’s probably what the other person is thinking too. And that, Tallullah would like to remind you, is the bittersweet truth of life.