Tallulah (2016)

  • Time: 111 min
  • Genre: Comedy | Drama | Romance
  • Director: Sian Heder
  • Cast: Ellen Page, Allison Janney, Tammy Blanchard


An intelligent but ferrell girl’s boyfriend leaves unexpectedly causing her to search for him at his estranged mother’s home. The two women begin to bond, finding supportive friendship in each other’s troubled lives, changing their outlook forever.

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  • Giving birth and being a mother are two mutually exclusive things as examined in Tallulah, the feature film debut from Orange is the New Black staff writer Sian Heder. Offering a trio of excellent lead performances, Heder challenges the formula by presenting potentially unlikeable characters but ultimately weakens her position driving her points too emphatically. A little subtlety goes a long way.

    When we first meet Tallulah, or “Lu” as she likes to be called, she’s living out of her van, dumpster-diving and stealing cash from strangers. She might bristle at putting down roots with boyfriend Nico (Evan Jonigkeit) when he suggests they move back to his hometown in New York, get some jobs, and maybe start a family, but when he ups and leaves the next day, she’s hurt and frustrated. “You say goodbye!” she screams at a passing train.

    Meanwhile, Nico’s mother Margo (Allison Janney), who hasn’t seen her son in two years, now finds herself all alone in her fancy New York apartment. An author specialising in marriage advice, she’s been abandoned by her husband (John Benjamin Hickey) for a younger man (Zachary Quinto). To top it all off, her one remaining companion, a pet turtle, has just died. So when Lu shows up at her doorstep looking for Nico, Margo is not in the best frame of mind to deal with a hobo claiming to be her son’s girlfriend and sends Lu on her way without so much as a handout.

    Sneaking into a swanky hotel to trawl for room service scraps, Lu encounters Carolyn (Tammy Blanchard), who mistakes her for a maid. A neglected trophy wife in town for an extramarital booty call, Carolyn asks Lu to babysit her one-year-old Madison while she’s out on the town. Eyeing the cash and jewelry lying around in plain sight and also concerned about the well-being of the toddler that Carolyn doesn’t seem to care about, Lu accepts. The plot revs into high gear when Lu makes a series of snap decisions that results in her kidnapping Madison, reaching out to Margo for help, and claiming that Madison is Nico’s daughter. Margo reluctantly lets Lu into her life, prompting inevitable bonding and understanding between two lonely souls who won’t admit they actually need people in their lives.

    Heder’s script contains one irony and heavy-handed line too many. Margo confides that all she ever wanted was to be married and a mother. “How’d that work out for you?” Lu cracks. Lu’s motivations for hanging on to Madison are unsurprisingly rooted in her own abandonment issues. Janney and Page, talented actresses that they are, extract emotional depths out of these contrivances.

    Heder’s biggest mistake, however, is making their relationship the primary focus when Carolyn is the film’s most intriguing and complex character. This is primarily due to Blanchard’s multi-layered portrayal – Carolyn may appear self-absorbed but her superficiality masks a lonely and wounded woman. Burdened with guilt, she admits that she only had the baby so her husband would notice her and, when his neglect increased, she wished that she’d never had the baby at all. Blanchard is heartbreaking and she more than anyone else perfectly embodies Heder’s ambition to dissect complicated women with compassion.

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