Director: Sian Heder
I can’t really be faulted for thinking that I would enjoy TALLULAH. JUNO remains one of my all time favorite movies, and there are plenty of reasons that film remains an indie darling. Therefore, lifting half of JUNO’s cast and an approximation of its plot seems to be a smart bet by Netflix execs seeking to replicate that film’s success. The resulting TALLULAH, however, couldn’t have landed farther from the mark.
TALLULAH is the hemp-fueled journey following the titular waif played by Ellen Paige. Tallulah lives in the back of a van with her boyfriend, Nico (Evan Jonigkeit), in upstate New York. After Nico disappears one night, Tallulah heads into the city to find his mom, Margo (Allison Janney), for help. Margo refuses to shelter Tallulah, forcing the vagrant to kidnap the baby of an alcoholic mother (Tammy Blanchard) to fool Nico’s mom into thinking that she’s a grandma. The two bond over the baby, but pressure mounts on Tallulah to maintain her lie as the police search for the taken tot.
If this premise sounds intriguing or clever, don’t worry, there’s still plenty of room to bore. The screenplay, penned by director Heder, is just as lost as TALLULAH herself. The film doesn’t know if it wants to focus on Tallulah’s struggle to take care of a child, her relationship with Margo, or simply the pair staying one step ahead of the cops. There’s a mishmash of half-thoughts and ideas going on here that cause the film to travel at a sluggish crawl, and in two hours, TALLULAH only manages to say as much as a filler episode of LAW AND ORDER. Even TALLULAH’s marketing is a mess, with both the poster and logline placing an emphasis on Blanchard’s two dimensional mother character, who only sees minimal screentime.
TALLULAH’s banal script does make an attempt to stand out, but only by punctuating each scene with some of the most painfully forced “indie” scenarios imaginable. I understand that JUNO’s hamburger phone and Paul Dano’s vow of silence in LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE might be necessary for building character and atmosphere, but TALLULAH abuses the limits of the genre. Wine-drunk housewives finger painting over priceless artwork? A woman who has finally let go of her husband emotionally taking to the sky literally? Teenagers smiling serenely while handcuffed in the back of a police car heading to jail? Blech! A contrivance for effect is a contrivance all the same.
They say that you can only do the best with what you are given, and maybe this speaks to the trash this film tries to feed the audience, but TALLULAH’s performances are astoundingly flat despite the talent on tap. Paige and Janney are essentially grunged-out versions of their JUNO characters minus nuance, while the supporting cast, which includes a weirdly irrelevant cameo by Zachary Quinto, exists to stare placidly while either of the leading ladies subject them to a verbal carpet bombing. The only portrayals I found remotely captivating were from Liliana and Evangeline Ellis alternating as the baby, who take directions far better than most toddlers out there.
TALLULAH’s star posing with Ellen Paige
I can’t even say TALLULAH means well, given that the entire film rides a dubious current of homophobic undertones. Janney’s out-of-the-closet, antagonistic ex is repeatedly attacked for his sexuality, and there were several eyebrow raising lines that caused me to seriously wonder if this movie had some sinister subliminal agenda. Of course, such sentiments aren’t exactly a rarity in Hollywood, but it’s strange that TALLULAH of all films is an offender. Is it possible that I’m reading too far into it? Certainly, but a movie starring perhaps Canada’s most outspoken LGBTQ activist and America’s top-grossing gay actor probably shouldn’t even be sending me mild hints of these vibes.
That’s really all there is to say about TALLULAH. It’s a boring, insipid mess that is far too long and clueless to be bearable. “Child-rearing done cheap” should be a far less offensive logline than, say, any Happy Madison production, but in execution it’s one of the most nauseating films I’ve seen in a long time. TALLULAH tries so hard to be an edgy JUNO, but this is one baby that should’ve been aborted.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend