A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Tallulah is a 2016 indie drama written and directed by Sian Heder (Orange Is the New Black) in which Ellen Page plays a young homeless woman who makes a snap decision to kidnap a baby from an unfit mother. The mature themes -- failed families, letting go of the past, moral ambiguity -- as well as the edgy content -- characters lie, cheat, and steal to survive -- make this most appropriate for older teens and adults. In the first five minutes, the lead character flees from a bar after conning the locals out of their money, smokes marijuana, and has sex in the back of the van she lives in. There is frequent profanity, including ample use of "f--k." A mother is shown very drunk, discussing the affair she's having while her toddler walks around naked, urinating on the floor and holding an unopened beer bottle. A woman discusses how she tried to smuggle heroin by sticking the package into her vagina. Bare breasts are shown in the sex scene.
What's the story?
In TALLULAH, the title character (Ellen Page) is a vagabond living a hand-to-mouth existence in a van with her boyfriend. When her boyfriend leaves her and goes back to New York City, she drives straight to Manhattan. Homeless and hungry, she tries to con her boyfriend's mother Margot (Allison Janney) into giving her money and possibly a place to stay. When the mother refuses, Tallulah sneaks into a hotel and starts eating the scraps of room service food left in the hall. While doing this, a drunk woman named Carolyn (Tammy Blanchard), believing Tallulah to be an employee of the hotel, begs her to babysit her baby daughter while she pursues her extramarital affair. When the woman returns drunk, Tallulah decides to kidnap the baby. She returns to Margot's apartment, claiming the baby is hers and that Margot is a grandmother. A friendship slowly develops between Tallulah and Margot as Margot tries to come to terms with her failed marriage and not seeing her son in two years. As Margot tries to finally move on with her life, Tallulah finds her deceptions to be increasingly difficult to maintain, especially when the police, the news, and Carolyn are determined to find the missing baby.
Is it any good?
This engaging indie drama is rife with moral ambiguity and flawed-but-likable characters that will be best appreciated by older teens and adults. The mistakes and missteps are clearly shown to be the results of characters being dealt some bad hands in life, and the not-so-simple act of merely keeping it together is what motivates these characters and drives the overall story. There are no clean and easy answers, and indecision is as much a part of the inner conflicts as poor decisions are. The depth of these characters and how they interact with each other is what makes this exploration of the familiar theme of wrong-choice-that-feels-like-a-right-choice work so well.
And the acting itself is magnificent. As Margot, Allison Janney delivers a memorable performance of a woman emotionally exhausted but still trying to find a way to move forward with her life. As Tallulah, Ellen Page reveals all the subtleties of a character who has finely honed survival skills but is lacking in the day-to-day life skills most of us take for granted. Complexity and depth shine through in both the performances and the story, which is why Tallulah is an excellent film.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the moral ambiguities presented in Tallulah. How does the behavior of the baby's mother influence Tallulah's decision to kidnap the baby? How is Tallulah already living a life of moral ambiguity to survive? What are some other examples of movies, TV shows, and novels in which moral ambiguity is a central theme?
What are some of the ways in which indie movies are different from mainstream movies? What do you think is the appeal for established actors and directors to work on indie projects?
Did the flaws of these characters, and the mistakes they made, make them more likable, relatable, or realistic? Why, or why not?
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