Netflix’s latest original, Tallulah, attempts to blend humour and drama but unfortunately comes up short in both departments. It’s not nearly funny enough to be a successful comedy, even a dark one, and the narrative stalls too often for it to be a worthwhile drama. Strong performances from the entire cast stop the movie from being completely worthless, but the excellent ensemble is effectively plaster over a gunshot wound. Eventually, the plentiful flaws, which are hard to ignore to begin with, become so overwhelming that you’ll likely find yourself itching to switch over to something else.
Ellen Page plays the titular character, Tallulah, a young woman that some might call a “free spirit” but really she’s a drifter. She may be foul-mouthed at times, unbearably cynical, and certainly not above thievery, but she has a good heart, which is what makes her so easy to root for. While her backstory isn’t heavily explored, there’s clearly skeletons in her closet that have resulted in her living in a van without so much as five bucks to her name. Page plays the troubled woman with wonderful sincerity, which intensifies the impact of what otherwise would have been some rather basic scenes.
Tallulah’s general good nature kicks the film’s plot into motion as she kidnaps a baby girl after deeming her mother unfit to care for her. The ethics of such a decision are never really explored, which is disappointing, but it’s hard not to feel a sense of justice in Tallulah’s actions. Carolyn (Tammy Blanchard) seems more concerned with her husband discovering her extramarital activities than the disappearance of her child. She even goes so far as hindering the police investigation in a desperate bid to cover her tracks—mother of the year she most certainly isn’t!
Now, essentially on the run with a baby, Tallulah seeks refuge in the home of her ex-boyfriend’s mother, claiming the newly acquired kid is her granddaughter. Margo (Allison Janney) reluctantly accepts these two unwelcome guests but quickly bonds with both Tallulah and her supposed grandchild. Janney is equally as excellent as Page. Margo is a lonely woman, living alone after her husband left her for another man. Even though she’s resistant at first, helping Tallulah look after the young baby gives her life new purpose. It’s sweet to watch these two scarred characters find solace in each other, and it’s a real shame that Tallulah doesn’t focus on this aspect of its narrative more.
Tammy Blanchard is detestable in all the right ways as the mother who clearly views her child as a burden, conceived as a tool to save a dying marriage, rather than a blessing. You do, of course, feel a little sympathy for her—her child has been taken after all, which creates a nice little conflict within the audience as you ponder whether you want the police’s efforts to return her child to be successful. Uzo Aduba pops up for a scene or two, which normally wouldn’t be noteworthy, but one of those scenes is so excellently acted and written that it’s the most memorable thing about the whole film.
There really isn’t much else to Tallulah, and that’s sort of the problem. Once the basic structure of the story has been set up and you have a firm grasp on the characters, you’ve seen everything there is to see. Unfortunately, this all happens well before the sixty-minute mark, while the following hour is just a dull blend of predictable story beats and bland character interactions. None of this is helped by an extremely strange ending, which feels rather inspired by Birdman, and some very unnecessary padding focused around Tallulah’s ex-boyfriend Nico (Evan Jonigkeit).
Tallulah could have massively benefited from being a good twenty to thirty minutes shorter and maybe having a little more to it. Sure, the performances are of a high standard and the characters, while not exactly deep or complex, are well written enough, but there’s a suffocating dryness to almost two-thirds of Tallulah that cannot be papered over.