by Rob Thomas, The Capital Times, published on August 1, 2016|
The new Netflix movie “Tallulah” may be Ellen Page’s subtle homage to one of Madison native Chris Farley’s greatest characters, motivational speaker Matt Foley. She is literally living in a van down by the river.
Or maybe it's unrelated. At no point in the movie does the petite Page crush a coffee table. Either way, “Tallulah” is a very well-acted and directed comedy-drama that premiered last weekend.
Page plays Tallulah, a homeless woman who lives in her van with her ne’er-do-well boyfriend Nico (Evan Jonigkeit). We sense that the pair couldn’t make a right choice to save their lives. When we first meet Tallulah, she’s running out of a bar being chased by angry poker players. (“Tallulah, you can’t bet with no money!” “You can if you win!” “Did you win?” “No.”)
Perhaps mustering a shred of self-respect, Nico splits in the middle of the night. Unsure of what to do, Tallulah looks up Nico’s parents who haven’t seen him in years. She finds that Nico’s father (John Benjamin Hickey) has left his wife Margo (Allison Janney) for another man. Margo, a celebrated writer of nonfiction books about marriage and society, has found herself unmoored and alone.
Here’s where the plot of “Tallulah” requires something of a leap of faith. Tallulah is somehow hired by a flighty mother, Carolyn, (Tammy Blanchard) to watch Carolyn’s infant daughter while she goes on a big date. The fact that Carolyn would let a total stranger take care of her child is bad enough, but writer-director Sian Heder (“Orange is the New Black”) goes to great pains to present her as a terrible mom.
So much so that it seems understandable — barely — when Tallulah decides to kidnap the baby and move in with Margo, presenting it as Margo’s grandchild.
If you can get past that, “Tallulah” is a charming movie, with the bulldozing Page and Janney as the dry, reticent Margo displaying great chemistry together. It’s an “unlikely friendship” sort of movie not unlike Netflix’s “Fundamentals of Caring,” but the characterizations are deeper here.
And it’s also key that this is a film about women, made by a woman, all too rare in male-dominated Hollywood these days. Even Carolyn, initially presented as an almost comical villain, turns out to have deeper shades of disappointment and humanity to her character.
In all, “Tallulah” is a very satisfying film tailored to some excellent actresses. Even the baby is good.