Tuesday, August 9, 2016

An Amazing Cast Makes A Mess With Tallulah.

The Good: Decent performances
The Bad: Unlikable characters, Sheer volume of ridiculous plot conceits, Severe story and direction problems
The Basics: Tallulah has a wonderful cast led by Ellen Page and Allison Janney doing their usual great jobs, but is riddled with problems that make for a generally poor film.

There are very few actors or directors who can get me to change my viewing plans these days. As a reviewer and a Netflix subscriber, I have a pretty massive queue of things to watch, but there are a couple of people who pretty much instantly get my attention. When, rather suddenly, I discovered that there was a new film featuring Ellen Page and Allison Janney, that was enough to get me to completely change my reviewing plans for the day. The new film is Tallulah and it was released only a few days ago on Netflix. I was surprised to discover that Tallulah was the first Netflix-exclusive film I've actually watched and reviewed.

And it's unfortunate that Tallulah is such a mess outside the performances.

Tallulah and Nico are two young people, living out of their van, surviving off of dumpster food, stolen credit cards and shower tickets they get from truckers. Tallulah dreams of going to India, but Nico just wants to go home. So, the morning after Nico tells her he loves her, Tallulah awakens to discover Nico has abandoned her and she drives the van to Nico's mother's apartment. Margo Mooney is going through a divorce from Nico's father and has not seen her son in two years. While scavenging for food in a nearby hotel, Tallulah encounters Carolyn and asks Lu to watch her one year-old baby for a night. Despite Tallulah not exhibiting any special skills, Carolyn abandons her daughter Madison with Tallulah. After Carolyn returns and collapses, Tallulah takes Madison out to her van for the night.

The next morning, as Tallulah tries to bring the baby back into the apartment building when she finds the place swarming with police. After a disastrous day - including a lousy book signing and the death of her turtle - Margo is visited by Tallulah, who tries to pass Madison off as her and Nico's baby. While the police hunt for Madison, Margo and Tallulah begin to bond. As Carolyn struggles to find Madison, Margo and Tallulah start to rely upon one another . . . until a chance sighting and Nico's return to New York City results in everything falling apart for Tallulah.

Tallulah is plagued almost immediately by a problem with the direction. The film is one that involves, essentially, a child abduction. While Margo's apartment is a different building from Carolyn's hotel, the distance between the buildings or their relative locations (they are within Tallulah's walking distance of one another, at the very least) is not made clear and the transition between the buildings is fast and awkward. As a result, elements like Tallulah standing outside Margo's apartment selling lemonade and Tallulah's van getting ticketed and ultimately booted seem like things that the police - who are looking for her - would notice.

Similarly, there's a pretty ridiculous conceit in that Tallulah abandons Madison one night in the apartment, robs Margo blind and after they are reunited, Margo does not call out the young lady on being a thief . . . even after Margo goes shopping for baby supplies and, by necessity, goes into her purse. Unlike Carolyn, Margo seems both intelligent and connected to reality in most ways, so her failing to address this is either a huge character issue or a very poor directoral/editing problem with Tallulah.

Tallulah is unfortunately predictable in many ways. As I watched the film, my wife was nearby doing her own thing; she called the next plot event on three separate occasions.

The moment Uzo Aduba appears on screen, she steals focus and is more than enough to pull viewers who love her on Orange Is The New Black out of the narrative. Aduba does fine in her brief role as a Child Protective Services officer, but given her Orange Is The New Black character's awkward relationship with children, it is tough to watch her make the leap (considering both parts are on Netflix, it feels almost like stunt casting for Tallulah).

That said, the acting in Tallulah is the redeeming quality of the film. Aduba is professional and empathetic as the CPS Detective and Zachary Quinto makes the most out his bit role in a part that allows him to loosen up and just play a normal human, which is pretty delightful to see. Having met Quinto in person, albeit briefly, at a Star Trek convention, it's cool to see him play a character who is just kind and loving and in no way superhuman, where it is a performance clearly different from his off-screen persona. In other words, Tallulah illustrates that Quinto can act - and not simply by having him play insane superpowered villains or an emotionless half-Vulcan. Tammy Blanchard has a decent emotional transition as Carolyn, making the initially unlikable character even remotely empathetic.

The two leads, Ellen Page and Allison Janney, are good in Tallulah. They have excellent chemistry with one another and there was no point in Tallulah where the viewer feels like they are watching outtakes from scenes the pair shot for Juno (reviewed here!). But, on their own, neither Page, nor Janney shows us anything outside what we would expect of actors of their caliber - much like how David Zayas's role as Detective Richards is utterly unsurprising given viewers have seen him play essentially the same character on Dexter. All three of these actors are wonderful, but in Tallulah they play well within expectations.

Tallulah is a marginally likable protagonist - she does something horrible, but she tries to take care of the child after she lies her way into Margo's home. That is somewhat interesting as a premise and director Sian Heder enhances Tallulah's character by creating flashbacks and hallucinations for the protagonist that visually implies her mental illness. Even using the hallucinations becomes problematic from the direction when it comes to the film's final scene.

Ultimately, Tallulah asks viewers to hang in with watching a long con and be entertained or empathize with how it all falls apart and it fails to captivate.

For other Netflix exclusives, please check out my reviews of:
House Of Cards - Season 1
Orange Is The New Black - Season 3
Daredevil - Season 2
Jessica Jones - Season 1
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - Season 2
Grace And Frankie - Season 1
Sense8 - Season 1
Arrested Development - Season 4
Stranger Things - Season 1


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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