Directed by Sian Heder
If “Tallulah” did one thing right, it’s that it brought Ellen Page and Allison Janney, that dynamic duo from the 2007 dramedy “Juno,” back on screen for the first time in 9 years (okay, it’s only been 3 years apparently…since “Touchy Feely,” whatever the heck that is). But the story they’re given to work with in “Tallulah” is better suited for an episode of “Dr. Phil” than a Netflix original film.
After two years of travelling the road, Nico (Evan Jonigkeit) is ready to go home and see his mom Margo (Allison Janney) again. But he leaves his girlfriend Tallulah (Ellen Page) in the middle of the night without even a goodbye. So “Lu” takes their van and drives into the city to Nico’s mom’s house, hoping to find him there. He’s not. After she’s turned away by the future mother-in-law she’s never met, she tries her luck stealing leftover room service food from the hallways of Margo’s fancy apartment complex. That’s when she meets Carolyn (Tammy Blanchard), a lonely, drunk newly-single mom whose daughter Madison takes a liking to Lu. So while Carolyn lay barely conscious, drunk on her bed, Lu takes Madison. That’s when Margo comes back into the picture, Carolyn tries to remember enough to help police find her baby, Nico decides to show up, etc. etc. until these storylines (like “Big Daddy” meets “Gone Baby Gone”) intersect in their unexpected conclusion.
The real star of “Tallulah” is not the title character, but Carolyn, played gracefully (if only her character asked for grace) by Tammy Blanchard. She plays what Juno might have ended up like if she’d kept the baby for herself, except without the loving family or devoted boyfriend to help her raise the kid. Not a pretty picture. Carolyn loses her daughter, but she quickly becomes the villain. Maybe she should have been a better mom, they argue (that’s where the “Gone Baby Gone” reference sneaks in). Carolyn isn’t the only complicated character. Lu fights demons inside herself, debating between a life on the road and a settled life of possible motherhood. Madison ignites something in Lu that she’s never felt before (that’s the “Big Daddy” plot). Page is doing her best work in years. And Allison Janney is as brilliant as ever playing Margo, whose own recent divorce—plus her absentee son—has left her feeling empty and hopeless. But all of these great characters, played by a wonderful ensemble (with a few smaller roles filled by big names), aren’t given the materials they need to build a movie we can be proud of. Shallow attempts at philosophical depth flood “Tallulah” at every turn. It tries too hard to be about something when it’s really pretty empty. If you squint real hard, you might be able to see a really good movie living inside “Tallulah.” It’s disappointing. But if it wasn’t for its all-star trio of leading women, we’d never know that potential even existed.