Overview: After being dumped by her boyfriend, a homeless drifter moves in with his mother, kidnapping an abused baby along the way. Netflix; 2016; Not Rated; 111 minutes.
Sometimes You Sundance: Pretty early into Tallulah, I smacked my head harder than I had all year. Allison Janney’s writer character, who’s going through a divorce, heads off to a reading of her new book. By having her run into two old friends/exposition sounding boards on the street, it’s revealed to the audience what she’s written about: stability and the family unit. She’s an expert on marriage stuck in a marriage that’s falling apart. Ye Gods.
But really I should have known better, as Tallulah quickly establishes itself as a happy member of that craven genre, The Sundance Movie. All the warning signs are there: false moral equivalencies, blandly televisual direction, a complete lack of character consistency, wan humor, stock New York location work, and Ellen Page. I could go on. Meet me in the back after the review is over, and I certainly will.
Sometimes You Sundon’t: A comic-book caricature of neglectful motherhood, Tammy Blanchard’s Carolyn is Exhibit A in the Smithsonian exhibit “Where Tallulah Goes Wrong.” In an endless scene that absolutely poisons the film’s groundwater, Ellen Page’s title character—who just wanted to swipe some room service—watches as Carolyn drunkenly parades around her hotel room, illustrating for the audience’s benefit how almost ludicrously unfit a parent she is (at one point even berating her one year old daughter for failing to pee in the toilet). To not take this child away, the film implies, would be an almost unforgivable moral failing. So Tallulah does, and we’re supposed to feel relieved. It’s a moment of utterly spineless, straw-man filmmaking that casts an ill shadow over the film and its subsequent attempts to humanize Carolyn. Blanchard (who, along with her role in The Invitation, is playing two of the most nonsensical characters in some of this year’s weakest films) acquits herself well enough, but having to transition from a funny-or-die parody of Mad Men to an ostensible flesh-and-blood human is something no actor should have to do.
Luckily (at least in the grand scheme of things), she’s not the film’s main focus; rather, it’s Janney’s character, Margo. Tallulah is part of the universe’s—or perhaps the script’s—schematic conspiracy to break Margo out of her shell and get her moving on with her life. At first refusing to allow Tallulah into her apartment, Margo changes her mind after seeing her return again, this time with the baby. It’s the film’s one provocative idea, that Tallulah may have kidnapped the child—who she claims is her daughter and, as such, Margo’s granddaughter—as a sort triggering stimulus through which to gain access to the apartment, and Margo’s money. But the specter of Blanchard’s awful mother precludes the entrance of any sort of moral ambiguity into this scenario, and Tallulah’s lie carries little emotional weight as a result. Some raw performative power occasionally bleeds its way into an affecting moment or two, and the demonstrable Janney/Page/Cute Baby chemistry occasionally barrels its way into a cute moment, but the tedious grind of montages and feeble life lessons never subsides.
Overall: The film is essentially a triptych of three different women, each connected by their complete lack of character consistency and fundamental resemblance to any human-being who has ever lived. Which is obviously a shame; there aren’t many films led exclusively by women, and there are even fewer directed by them. I got no joy out of watching Tallulah fall—again-and-again—into the hoariest of indie cliches, but I’m also obligated to call em’ like I see em’. Send this one back to Park City.
Featured Image: Netflix