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Tallula (Ellen Page), or “Lou” as she likes to called, lives in a run down van on the open road, traveling with her boyfriend of two years. Nico (Evan Jonigkeit), likes the lifestyle, but is growing tired of the unknown and the instability. He asks her to move back to New York City with him where they can start again, get jobs, and have a real life. She rejects him and in the morning, he is gone. Angered and scared, Lou drives to the city and finds Nico’s mother Margo (Allison Janney), and pleads with her for help, though she initially wants nothing to do with her.
Hungry and frightened, she ends up combing the hallways of an upscale hotel, digging through room service leftovers left outside doors. She is spotted by Carolyn (Tammy Blanchard), an eccentric woman with a look in her eye, who mistakes Lou for housekeeping and asks her inside where she persuades her to look at after her naked toddler while she tries cheat on her husband, hoping to feel some kind of affection again. Her outwardly dismissive attitude for her baby is distressing, but the piles of cash lying about are tempting, so Lou agrees, and once Carolyn is gone, takes off with the baby and the money, heads back to Margo, and convinces her the child is Nico’s. What follows is a tale of three connected women suffering great pains.
Directed by Sian Heder, Tallulah is a slow-paced, engrossing story that stages its three acts with a very keen eye on developing these women with uncommon depth. We are led to believe this is Lou’s story, but in fact it is about the women as a whole, three sorrowful characters with great familiarity separated by enormous gaps. Heder, who also wrote the screenplay, isn’t interested in painting any of them heroically, instead, layering each with colors that make it often hard to watch as truths become evident and weaknesses bared. Men are rightly pushed to the far peripheral, their motivations unimportant in the larger context, the women and the consequences of men are the story, and each are drawn with great compassion, vulnerability, and often troubling impact.
All three leads are well cast, each giving their point in the trifecta great weight. Lou is the link between them all and Page is affecting as the naive but passionate ingenue looking to do the right thing as she tries to correct a terrible choice made on her behalf when she was too young to have any control over it. Blanchard is very good as a woman that makes you cringe with every word she says, a disheveled train-wreck of a person that only begins to make sense as the film progresses. And Janney is pitch-perfect, warm, sensitive, desperate for attention and being needed. She emerges as the real heart of the story and gets the film’s final say in a metaphorical showing that speaks volumes to the story’s premise.
There are some missteps along the way though, with a few of the male characters thinly developed and set merely as place markers to create movement in the script. Heder does well with the relationships between Lou and Margo, but Carolyn is a thin stretch of ice that has cracks throughout, making it less effective in getting sympathy for her. There are some obvious moments as well that are visible miles ahead and while the delivery is very good lose some effectiveness simply because there’s little surprise, this most especially in a scene involving some crass paintings and a dinner conflict at Margo’s ex-husband’s home.
That said, Tallulah is a well-made and often touching film that handles these complicated characters well. These are damaged people and the film isn’t trying so much to heal them but to give them a voice to express their pain. For that reason alone, Tallulah is well worth the investment.
Director(s): Sian Heder
Actor(s): Ellen Page, Allison Janney, Tammy Blanchard