It’s easy to classify Sian Heder’s directorial debut Tallulah as a mature Juno follow-on, thanks to the central focus again being a child and the return of Ellen Page and Allison Janney’s charismatic pairing. But despite its leading actresses, Tallulah sets aside quirky one-liners and a Moldy Peaches soundtrack to become a much more realistic and often entangled view of the trials and tribulations of womanhood.
However, the Juno link is familiar ground, the foundations are there for us to know and relate to these characters; Ellen Page as Tallulah (also known as Lou) is an edgy 20-something with a penchant for khaki, Allison Janney as Margo again reprises a role as an erratic but deeply caring mother. Thankfully, to the films benefit, this mould means character traits are already established, quirks are understood and you’re able to fully focus on just how complicated Tallulah’s situation is.
Tallulah lives in a van, a free spirit she doesn’t want to live a 9-5 lifestyle and therefore has no money, meaning she scours hotel corridors looking for room service food to eat when she is caught by a lonely and bored housewife who invites her into the room. Asking her to babysit her child while she goes on a date (behind her husband’s back), it’s made very clear that Carolyn has no clue what she’s doing, loaded on booze and prescription meds she has no regard for her child’s safety or well-being, so Tallulah reluctantly accepts. When Carolyn returns she is blackout drunk and unable to care for her child. Tallulah then sneaks the toddler out of the hotel and doesn’t look back.
At times this seems like a hard premise to believe in; why doesn’t Tallulah stay the night until Carolyn is sober? Why didn’t she take the child away for the night and return her in the morning (after all, in an opening scene, Lou specifically states to her estranged boyfriend that she doesn’t want a child)? Lots of questions can be poised about the credibility of these scenes but doubts are dashed when Lou knocks on the door of her boyfriend’s mothers’ apartment.
Allison Janney’s Margo is a woman dealing with a son that hasn’t talking to her in two years, her husband coming out, his eventual departure, and having to live in an apartment filled with his belongings. Trapped in a room associated with disappointing men, the arrival of Tallulah and child is at first unwanted but slowly approved of, despite having never met Tallulah in her life (and the child posing as her grand-kid). The outpouring of feminine energy into Margo’s life has trans-formative effects, and the restriction Janney applies to welcoming these good vibes is what makes the film so touching. Tallulah breaks down a wall in Margo, allowing her to become her own woman again, shedding the load of her ex-husband and making a space her own. She’s also having this effect on Carolyn, who has sought police involvement to locate her child, at first because of fear of her husband finding out (he’s in the UK on business) and later because she realises she actually loves her kid.
Tallulah is the catalyst for women knowing their power and their worth. We find ourselves with 3 characters who represent different aspects of womanhood and life. Lou is the woman who doesn’t know what she’s doing with her life, a free spirit, a tomboy. Margo is a woman at a crossroads, a divorcee, and a career woman. And Carolyn represents the housewife, reliant on her husband for money, indulgent and sexy. Sian Heder’s direction of these three women could end up like stock characters or paint either one of them as a comic relief, the dirty hippy, erratic mother or slutty housewife, but they are handled delicately, with a kind of patient attention that only a woman could put on screen. They are brought together by this child, a blank canvas whose own person will be shaped by the women around her, be it in positive or negative ways. This is the real succession of Heder, her characters are good and bad and you’re never given time to decide which before she chips away at their facade to reveal another fact, another trait or another problem, we leave the film with a rounded sense of what a woman and a mother can be.
By Chloe Leeson
Chloe Leeson is the founder of Screenqueens. She is 20 and from the north of England (the proper north). She believes Harmony Korine is the future and is pretty sure she coined the term ‘selfie central’. She doesn’t like Pina Coladas or getting caught in the rain but she does like Ezra Miller a whole lot. Her favourite films are Into The Wild, The Beach and Lords of Dogtown. But DON’T talk to her about Paranormal Activity. She rants about cinema screenings @kawaiigoff.