Movies · Reviews

The Ambiguity in Motherhood of Netflix’s Tallulah

By  · Published on August 2nd, 2016

Years later, Ellen Page finds a role that is the antithesis of Juno.

As a woman, there is nothing I love more than films with complex female characters. Tallulah gave me a film in which nearly all of the important characters are complex women. I watched this film primarily because, having seen Juno, I know the talent and chemistry between stars Ellen Page and Allison Janney. I got far more than I bargained for.

Tallulah follows the title character, a young drifter (Ellen Page) who travels to New York City in search of her ex-boyfriend (Evan Jonigkeit) who’s just left her for a more domicile lifestyle than the back of a van can provide. The first place she looks for him is at his mother, Margo’s, (Allison Janney) apartment. He isn’t there and Margo is not particularly happy about some strange, dirty girl showing up at her doorstep.

Heartbroken, Tallulah turns toward the city’s multitude of hotels in the hope of finding some half-eaten room service scraps. It is here that she happens on Carolyn (Tammy Blanchard), a young housewife. Carolyn, drunk and alone with her toddler, overshares and begs Lu to babysit the child. She reluctantly agrees, swayed by the promise of cash.

Tallulah and the child take to each other at once. When Carolyn returns from her tryst too drunk to care for the child, Lu just takes her. She returns to Margo and passes the child off as her own. Lu and Margo become quite close as an investigation threatens to destroy Carolyn’s life. Uzo Adoba of Orange is the New Black fame gives an excellent performance as a Child Protective Services investigator.

The three mothers in the film are all extremely flawed. They bring very different personal histories to the story. Tallulah defines these mothers as independent women, not merely by their relationships to others, which is one of the film’s central themes. These women have all been hurt in their own way in their familial roles as wives, mothers, and daughters. Their stories are so captivating and so human that it would be wholly impossible to label any one of them a hero or a villain.

Watching the film, I couldn’t help but to be reminded of that other film about motherhood that made Ellen Page a household name, Juno, which also featured Allison Janney as a not-quite-mother. Tallulah feels in many ways like a grittier, more ambiguous answer to the quirky, whimsical optimism of Juno. It is unclear whether or not love prevails for anyone in Tallulah. It is unclear what fate the baby will find. Everyone obviously learns something from the experience, but it feels more like the school of hard knocks than the musings of Michael Cera’s Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

Long story short, see this film. It premiered on Netflix, you have the opportunity. The writing is solid. The acting is incredible, and the film will not only make you think, but it will make you feel something.

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