By Hans Pedersen, August 2016 Web Exclusive.
Tallulah, a fascinating tale of emotional neglect, profiles a young homeless woman and her relationship with her boyfriend’s well-off mother. But the story also explores the motivation behind a kidnapping and the fallout another mother endures when the anguished woman’s infant goes missing.
In an era where stellar roles for women are few and far between, Tallulah features three well-developed characters that the film’s three lead actresses truly bring to life.
Writer/director Siân Heder’s riveting movie, peppered with comic moments and plenty of drama, focuses on how a young woman named Tallulah survives on the edge of society. Openly lesbian actress Ellen Page delivers a dynamite performance in this dramedy, which premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.
Set amid a culture-clash, the story unfolds primarily in three settings: the van where Tallulah lives, a swanky hotel and upper-middle class New Yorkers’ apartments.
As Tallulah brushes her teeth in the back of her dilapidated van in the opening scene, surrounded by accumulated belongings and the vicissitudes of her life, it’s clear she’s accustomed to functioning in survival mode.
After she’s abandoned by her boyfriend Nico (Evan Jonigkeit), Tallulah ventures to New York City, where she encounters Carolyn (Tammy Blanchard, who some may remember her from the gay-themed Navy film, Burning Blue), a drunk mom holed up in an upscale hotel with a hot date on her calendar.
In a misunderstanding, Tallulah is quickly mistaken for a worker at the upscale hotel, so when Carolyn offers her money to watch the child, she accepts.
After a bubble bath, of course Tallulah bonds with the little young toddler. But when Carolyn returns many hours later, obliterated, she quickly passes out – and Tallulah is unsure what to do next.
She’s ready to head back to her van parked outside, but with the baby is screaming for comfort, she makes a careless and impulsive choice that makes little sense. She takes the child out to her van parked outside and falls asleep.
When Carolyn awakens, she finds her child is missing and promptly calls police. Freaked out, Tallulah bolts and knocks on the door of her boyfriend’s mom, Margo (Allison Janney). Claiming the child belongs to her and Nico, Tallulah is invited into her home.
It’s a move calculated for the well-being of the child, but part of the intrigue of the film is sussing out Tallulah’s motives. She isn’t too difficult to figure it out, although she commits felonies most would never commit, like stealing a baby.
Margo soon invites Tallulah to a brunch with her estranged husband and his new boyfriend (played by Zachary Quinto).
It’s a story of surveillance footage, connecting the dots and strained family relations as we wonder if someone will uncover Tallulah’s ruse.
The pacing of the film is swift as Tallulah entangles herself in a messy situation, and the story never lags, thanks to skillful editing by Darrin Navarro.
And without a doubt, the performances by Page, Janney and Blanchard are phenomenal. Page taps into the character’s sympathetic qualities and delivers a skilled, nuanced performance. While her character’s motivations can, at times, appear a bit muddled, her impulses become clearer as we learn more about her backstory.
The trauma of losing her child is captured in a heart wrenching way by Blanchard, who steals the show in a revelatory turn. And Janney, who co-starred with Page in Juno, poignantly plays the woman who’s essentially getting duped by the young vagrant.
Music by Michael Brook (Perks of Being a Wildflower, Into the Wild) keeps the action moving along as well. And while the story’s gay content is minimal, it’s a pleasure to watch a seasoned young actor like Page, who happens to be out, performing such an intriguing role.
The film ultimately serves as a window into the world of Tallulah, who has carved out a life for herself on the fringe, refusing to follow all of society’s rules.