Tallulah (2016) ☆☆☆(3/4): Her problem with a baby

The heroine of Netflix film “Tallulah” is probably one of the messiest movie characters I have ever encountered. She is often quite impulsive and unwise to our annoyance and frustration, but the movie lets us have more understanding and empathy on how this rather unlikable young woman tries to do her best under an increasingly complicated situation, and we come to worry about her more than expected around the end of the story.

Elliot Page, who was Ellen Page when the movie came out in 2016, plays the titular character of the film, and the opening part succinctly establishes how things are messy for her and her current boyfriend. Although they lived fairly well together for a while as moving one place to another via her old van, Tallulah and her boyfriend come to have a big argument at one night, and she subsequently finding herself left alone in the van while her boyfriend is already gone without much trace.

Because her boyfriend previously said that he wants to go to New York City for reuniting with his estranged mother, Tallulah soon goes to New York City for meeting his mother, but Margo (Allison Janney) has not seen her son for years since he ran away from their home some years ago, and she is not particularly willing to help Tallulah. As becoming quite desperate now, Tallulah looks for any opportunity to earn some extra cash or get some food, and that is how she sneaks into a posh hotel and then comes across a rich married woman named Carolyn (Tammy Blanchard), who happens to be in the need of someone to tack care of her little baby daughter in her hotel room.

Although she was initially considering taking money from Carolyn and then leaving the baby alone in Carolyn’s hotel room, Tallulah soon changes her mind because she comes to feel sorry for the baby after seeing how irresponsible and superficial Carolyn is. As your average self-absorbed trophy wife, she is mostly occupied with having some fun outside without her little daughter, and she is not particularly concerned at all when she gladly hands her daughter to Tallulah and then goes outside.

Fortunately for both Tallulah and the baby, they get along with each other fairly well, and Tallulah later takes the baby into her van just for comforting the baby more, but that is where a big trouble is started. When she belatedly comes to realize that her baby is gone, Carolyn immediately calls the police, and Tallulah is certainly frightened by what she inadvertently causes. To make matters worse, she just runs away from the scene along with the baby instead of simply handing the baby back to her mother, and then she presents the baby as her own daughter when she visits Margo’s apartment again.

While quite flabbergasted by the unexpected appearance of her ‘granddaughter’, Margo lets both Tallulah and the baby stay in her apartment. She soon comes to see what a headache Tallulah is as often being blunt and insensitive in her frequent impulsive behaviors, but she tries her best for tolerating Tallulah for the sake of the baby, and, of course, Tallulah comes to stay longer than expected along with the baby.

Nonetheless, it does not take much time for Margo to open herself to Tallulah and the baby a bit more than before. As a bitter divorcée still stuck in the apartment which technically belongs to her gay ex-husband, she does not have much problem with being alone, but now there comes a little warm consolation via Tallulah and the baby, and Tallulah becomes more conflicted as watching how much Margo is brightened up by her and the baby.

In the meantime, the screenplay by director/writer Sian Heder also focuses on Carolyn’s position. While the police continue to search for the baby as well as Tallulah, she remains thoughtlessly self-serving as usual, but then she is also painfully reminded of how careless and thoughtless she has been as a mother when she is later confronted by a social service worker played by Uzo Aduba, who does not mince her words at all during her no-nonsense conversation with Carolyn.

Around the narrative point where Tallulah cannot possibly lie to cover her serious criminal deed anymore, we can clearly discern where the story and characters are heading, but Heder’s competent direction and several good performances keep us engaged as before. While ably balancing her character well between better and worse sides, Elliot Page brings enough life and personality to her problematic character, and she is particularly wonderful when her character comes to make a hard choice for the baby as well as herself later in the story. As her more sensible counterpart, Allison Janney, who previously appeared with Page in “Juno” (2007) and “Touchy Feely” (2013), is dependable as usual, and Tammy Blanchard did a good job of making her deeply flawed character somehow more sympathetic than expected.

On the whole, “Tallulah” is a modest but solid character drama film, and it is also one of better offerings from Netflix during last several years. After this little nice work, Heder moved onto another acclaimed film “CODA” (2021), and she certainly confirmed to us that she is indeed another talented American filmmaker to notice, and I sincerely hope that she will keep going as before.

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