Tallulah

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Ellen Page in Tallulah - a rootless young woman takes a toddler from a wealthy, negligent mother and passes the baby off as her own in an effort to protect her. This decision connects and transforms the lives of three very different women.
"Heder shows no signs of nerves with her first feature, boldly creating a trio of women who are, initially, prickly at best, slowly fleshing them out to reveal each as altogether more complex."

Ellen Page's nuanced performance was the best thing about the generally lacklustre Freeheld so it's great to see her front and centre in this far-superior debut from Orange Is The New Black writer Sian Heder. Page always brings physicality to her roles, using body language and expressions as much as script to connect us to her character's emotions. Here, as the eponymous Tallulah, she gets to use her full range as an impetuous itinerant, who lives out of a van with her boyfriend Nico (Evan Jongikeit), the dashboard cluttered with busy snowglobes, her mind storming with ideas.

Everyone knows her as Lu - she probably never had time for all those additional syllables anyway - and on some level she takes comfort from her lack-of-commitment cocoon, finding it threatened when Nico suggests they should give up the road and settle down in New York City. An argument follows and the next morning she wakes to find herself alone. So, she does the very first thing that enters her head - drive to NYC in a bid to track him down.

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Not one for half measures, she heads straight for the apartment of Nico's mother Margo (Allison Janney) only to hit a wall of loss-fuelled animosity from a woman reeling from the two-year absence of Nico and struggling to come to terms with the fact her husband not only walked out but came out.

Shooed off the premises, Lu scavenges for lunch in a hotel, where she is mistaken for a maid by drunken, spoilt Carolyn (Tammy Blanchard) and dragged into her room. There, she finds Carolyn's toddler Madison surrounded by a sea of cash and high-end belongings and quickly realises Carolyn is more interested in heading out on the tiles than looking after her daughter. The end result is that Lu kidnaps the kid - albeit for intended altruistic reasons - and heads back to Margo's claiming the child his hers and Nicos.

Heder shows no signs of nerves with her first feature, boldly creating a trio of women who are, initially, prickly at best, slowly fleshing them out to reveal each as altogether more complex and exploring notions of motherhood beyond traditional expectations. Considering the complex psychologies at play there is a surprising amount of sparky comedy between Margo and Lu - "Were you raised by wolves?" Margo asks her in one of her drier moments. As the empathy grows between Margo and Lu, the younger woman's grab-the-bull-by-the-horns approach helping Margo to see things differently as she, in turn, offers a calming influence, we also begin to see past our first impressions.

Even Carolyn, who at first seems as though she will be nothing more than a one-note 'bad mother' is shown to have complexities and insecurities that have contributed to her situation, although she is her own worst enemy. This is a female-centric film but the men, when the are present, are also presented in a multi-faceted way, with an excruciating lunch between Lu and Margo and her ex (John Benjamin Hickey) and his partner (Zachary Quinto), a carefully worked masterclass of tension, humanistically taking the view that friction stems from having been hurt rather than from a desire to hurt.

Signs of Heder's TV work occasionally poke through, such as the desire to add a romance subplot involving Margo's doorman (Felix Solis) when the film would benefit from a leaner approach. An initial foray into magic realism also feels at odds with the rest of the action, although Heder ultimately stays true to the idea in a way many will find rewarding. She is a director who could give Lu a run for her money - as she, too, knows exactly what she wants and how to get it.

Reviewed on: 07 Jun 2016
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Tallulah packshot
A woman 'kidnaps' a toddler and passes her off as her own.

Festivals:

Sundance 2016

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