Thursday, June 15, 2017
Tallulah bangs out of the gate with enough starting points to fill a half dozen movies, including a stolen baby, unhappy wives, wayward sons, gay husbands, and a scruffy urchin at the center of it all who, I guess, is supposed to tell everybody how to loosen up and live a little. Despite the avenues that could be explored, none of it adds up to much, unless you count the flimsy message about female bonding that weaves through, or the stranger notion that biological motherhood is no match for just a couple of gals hanging out and stroking each other's hair. Then again, who can blame these women in a movie where the males are either unreliable or eventually become homosexuals? The feature was written and directed by Sian Heder, best known as a writer for Orange is the New Black, a television show about a women's prison to which many have attached importance. Tallulah feels like television, a routine melodrama served up in small chunks without much art to it. Maybe it should've been a six part HBO series. It'd win awards.
The story: Tallulah (Ellen Page) is a scrappy young woman who lives in a van with her boyfriend. When he abandons her, she traces him back to Manhattan, where she guesses he's returned to see his long estranged mother. Tallulah sneaks around the ritzy apartment building where the woman lives, and ends up being mistaken for a maid. A drunk floozy (played with slobby glamor by Tammy Blanchard) invites her in to watch her baby. Tallulah decides the floozy isn't mother material, so she takes off with the toddler. Then she decides to pretend the baby is her own, so she can visit her boyfriend's mom and hit her up for money. The mom (Allison Janney) is a stereotype right out of Frazier, the marriage expert and author who is in the middle of an ugly divorce. In the meantime, Tallulah becomes attached to the infant - a little girl, of course - and is soon making headlines in the daily papers as a baby snatcher.
So much happens during the movie's first half, with most of it coming at you in a breathless, zesty pace, that by the second half, even as the NYPD is closing in on Tallulah, you're not quite caring about the women, the baby, or anyone else you've met along the way. The problem is that Tallulah's adventure has no momentum - it could've been done with Tallulah rambling through an Ozlike Manhattan with the baby as Toto, the floozy as the wicked witch, creating some real power and fun here - but Heder wants to pause and ponder the warm fuzzies of womanhood. Worse, she trots out one predictable type after another, from the slacker boyfriend, to the sensitive black woman from the child protection services, to the horny Spanish doorman at the apartment building. They're all stock characters, delivering simple minded lines ("Gee, what would you do if gravity didn't exist and you floated away?"). The city of New York is barely part of the movie. We get a little scenery, and a subway ride, but Heder has no more feel for New York than she would for horse racing or Olympic cycling.
The real trouble, though, is Page as the title character. Though Janney calls her "a feral beast" - she looks like she's wearing the same stuff she wore in those Canadian runaway dramas from her pre Juno days - she's just not quite alley cat enough for the role. She's simply too bright, with too much intelligence in the eyes and voice, too clear of skin and straight of teeth, to be this animal-like creature who has been living rough and only now has discovered her mother instinct. Page's charisma gets her through most scenes, but her bag of acting tricks is just about used up (ie. the wrinkled forehead, the looks of concern, the smirk, the tears). Heder's choice to go surreal doesn't help, either. There are dream sequences, hallucinations, and an ending that defies logic, all things that might work better on an HBO series so viewers could go to work the next day and debate what it all meant. That this movie was a Netflix original is strange, too. I remember seeing Page movies like Whip It and To Rome With Love in gigantic theaters in downtown Manhattan. Now she's on Netflix, where Adam Sandler has gone to leg out the end of his career.