Missing children are an all-too-present part of the British psyche. From haunting real life tragedies to numerous on-screen depictions, we’ve all come into contact with the issue. Sian Heder turns the mirror on this nightmare, showing us both the effects on the kidnapper, as well as those connected to the victim.
Based on her time as a babysitter in upmarket hotels, Heder wrote a story of a distracted, neglectful mother, and the situation she puts a young woman in. A decade in the making, Tallulah evolved from the page to a short, Mother, and then into the Netflix-purchased feature that premiered at this year’s Sundance. During these intermediary years, Heder moved on from her baby-sitting days, having children of her own. The story moved with her, changing and reshaping into a balanced exploration of a most-tragic situation.
Ellen Page is Lou, a young wanderer, too scared to lay roots, too proud to ask for help. Page breathes an immediate warmth and a dizzying naivety into her drifter, whilst quietly retaining the rough edges of someone who lives in their van. An outward strength hides a tender vulnerability; she flees at the first sign of anything real.
That is until a toddler is thrust onto her lap, and into her life. Lost, bewildered and with barely a cent to her name, Lou’s wit and willing will only get her so far. This may all sound rather familiar, but a pair of high-class performances elevate Tallulah above similarly modest productions. Allison Janney shares an electric chemistry with Page, panicking and protecting as her life is flipped on its head. Their characters are polar opposites, but attract in pushing others away. Sadness has fallen on both their lives, and it takes Heder’s steady hand to keep this from becoming cliched.
Thankfully, her hand is rock-steady. Heder keeps the emotion bubbling under the surface. Overflowings are to be expected, but they are compact and necessary. Even more impressively, each of the central characters is totally sympathetic. They’re all deeply flawed, all make mistakes but are all distinctly human. People make poor choices, think awful thoughts and hurt others, but Tallulah respects that they’re still human.
This all could’ve easily slipped into exaggeration, becoming a Coen-less Raising Arizona. But, reuniting from Juno, Page and Janney share a special connection and give Heder’s vision a strong heartbeat. This grounding allows the film to bravely tred where others wouldn’t dare, and whilst Tallulah may stumble, it never loses its balance.
In the end, we are handed a deeply emotional and richly rewarding experience; one that’ll leave you feeling flawed, but deeply human.
Images courtesy of teaser-trailer and scpr respectively.