Written and directed by Sian Heder (Her first feature-length film.) Tallulah is a drama built around Ellen Page‘s “free spirit” character. Despite being an addictive film it is, ultimately, uncomfortable to watch.
Tallulah (Page) lives in the back of her van with boyfriend Nico (Evan Jonigkeit). It is not an ideal set up and after the two make love in the vehicle, he complains about their living arrangements. She tells Nico that this is how she lives, full stop.
The next morning, Tallulah wakes up to find Nico gone.
A journey to Manhattan puts the 20 something woman in touch with Nico’s mother Margo (Allison Janney). At first Margo turns Tallulah away but then immediately regrets her decision.
Hungry, Tallulah heads to a hotel and eats food off the room-service trays outside the rooms. She is caught by Carolyn (Tammy Blanchard), a drunken and disturbed mother who needs someone to look after her baby.
Carolyn is clearly not in an emotional state to look after a child of any age. Later when she returns from her date, Carolyn passes out on her bed. Tallulah, after stealing cash and jewelry from the woman, takes her baby.
Tallulah goes to see Margo again and this time tells her that the baby is Nico’s. Margo reluctantly allows the pair to stay for “just one night.”
The film spends a lot of time allowing the three to bond. It also delves into the breakup of Margo and Nico’s father Stephen (John Benjamin Hickey). Stephen has moved in with his gay lover Andreas (played by long time pal of Sian Heder, Zachary Quinto).
Carolyn realizes her baby is missing and calls the police. Detective’s Richards (David Zayas) and Kinnie (Uzo Aduba) contact the baby’s father Russell (Fredric Lehne) and start investigating Carolyn while they look for Tallulah and the baby.
Heder’s first feature length film is a mixed bag. Not amusing enough to be classified as a dramedy, it is, however, oddly compelling and impossible to stop watching. Throughout the film one cannot escape the feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Tallulah taking the infant is so intrinsically wrong, yet we understand her motivation. It becomes even clearer later on when more backstory is revealed. The young woman is a impulsive creature who lies and steals to make her way through life. Taking baby Madison was done on the spur of the moment and it is clear this will end in tears.
Margo and Tallulah eventually bring out the best in one another but ultimately it really changes nothing in the terms of direction that this story must take. The free spirit and the “stuck in a rut” woman are undergoing a change. One that could end badly for all concerned.
The film is ultimately a bit of a downer. Page, always watchable in whatever project she works in, gives her survivor role a lost and vulnerable air. She also provides Tallulah with a certain truth, a stubborn belief that everything will work out if one just keeps slugging away at the problem. And if that does not work, there is always running away.
Margo is angry and resentful of the husband who left her for another man. A writer of relationship books, she has become a bitter introvert. She is a slightly anal older woman who keeps a turtle as a pet. (This choice of pet speaks volumes about author.) But…she wants to care about someone.
Tallulah offers a glimpse into the lives of a few disparate individuals over a couple of days. The ending is quite surrealistic and a tad ambiguous. It is also one of those tear inducing finales that has one reaching for the tissue box.
The downbeat finish is not surprising. This story was never going to end well for anyone, let alone Tallulah.
Page and Janney turn in some brilliant performances and Blanchard is splendid as the alcoholic mother who entrusts her baby to a stranger. It was lovely to see Uzo Aduba outside of Orange Is the New Black.
This film is a 4.5 star production that only loses a half star because of the ambiguity of the ending. Tallulah is streaming on Netflix at the moment and it is definitely worth a look. It will have to be a long one as the running time is just under two hours.
Be advised however that, despite IMDb touting the film as a “Comedy/Drama/Romance” it is ultimately an uncomfortable film to watch. Regardless of this fact it is entertaining.