An impressive directorial debut for Orange is the New Black writer Sian Heder, Tallulah more than compensates for its fairly familiar indie drama premise with a startling, arguably career-best performance from the superb Ellen Page, while Allison Janney and Tammy Blanchard keep pace with terrific supporting work.
Tallulah (Page) is a young transient living in her car with her boyfriend, but when he bails, she finds herself abducting an irresponsible mother’s (Blanchard) baby and visiting her now-ex-boyfriend’s mother (Janney), seeking refuge by claiming the child to be theirs.
This is a premise that could easily have become hopelessly awash in overwrought melodrama and even straight up soap opera, but Heder manages to ground a relatively out-there premise by immediately painting Tallulah as a unique soul, living a life so far divorced from most all of us, eating out of trash cans and rarely bathing.
The pic isn’t especially loaded with surprises and absolutely doesn’t need to be; you’ll probably be able to peg what’s coming for most of the film’s major beats, but Page fires her character through with so much intriguing sadness, slowly simmering beneath the surface, that it transcends the mere need to shock or astound. That’s not to say Heder’s film isn’t funny, because it totally is, wryly riffing on class differences and, in one especially profound scene, the utter absurdity of existence.
Page does some superbly subtle work that doesn’t beg a lot of Big Acting, and both her turn and the film are all the better for it; there aren’t really any big, grandstanding screaming matches begging for that Oscar reel clip, but rather a subdued look at a life keen to deviate, often self-destructively, from the established norm.
Heder’s direction is simple but as functional as it needs to be, sometimes evoking a TV-like aesthetic, though that’s honestly not a huge complaint with the current state of TV being what it is. For a vibrant, often heartbreaking but also frequently amusing character study, look no further.
Tallulah is available now on Netflix