Mommy Issues abound in “Tallulah,” a Netflix film marking the feature-length directorial debut of “Orange is the New Black” writer Sian Heder, who combines a decidedly indie style with effective mainstream melodrama.
This is one of the most moving films of 2016. Every 20 minutes or so, it grabs you and puts a lump in your throat.
Nearly a decade after her breakout performance as a pregnant teenager in “Juno,” Ellen Page is a force of nature as Tallulah aka Lu, a drifter and small-time thief who kidnaps a baby on a whim and passes herself off as the infant’s mother.
Some background. Lu and her boyfriend Nico (Evan Jonigkeit) live in a van, getting by from day to day by any means possible, legal or not. Nico grows tired of the lifestyle and splits — back to New York City, where his mother lives.
Lu sneaks into a hotel and is scrounging food off room service plates when Tammy Blanchard’s Carolyn mistakes her for housekeeping and invites her into the room.
Carolyn looks like one of those completely un-real “Real Housewives” who are always recovering from plastic surgery and yelling at their friends and spilling goblets of wine on TV. She’s a hot mess.
An already tipsy Carolyn enlists Lu’s help in watching Carolyn’s infant, Madison. When Carolyn stumbles back to the room late that night and passes out, Lu snatches Madison and makes her way to Nico’s mom’s apartment on Fifth Avenue.
The wonderful Allison Janney plays Nico’s mom, Margo. Lu tells Margo the baby is her granddaughter.
Margo senses something is wrong, but against her better judgment she takes in Lu and the baby, and a bond is forged.
At times “Tallulah” is such a funny, insightful, engrossing and slightly twisted dysfunctional family drama we forget: LU STOLE A BABY.
In less talented hands, all the fractured family relationships and missing-baby stuff could have made for overwrought melodrama, but Heder has a terrific ear for dialogue, and she infuses “Tallulah” with just the right mixture of indie-whimsy and smartly observed social commentary to make it something special.
Page as the young woman whose mother abandoned her, and Janney as the woman of a certain age whose husband and son abandoned HER, have a beautiful, messy, fantastic mother-daughter dynamic.
Tammy Blanchard’s Carolyn is perhaps the most heartbreaking character in the film. She starts as caricature, but the more we learn about her and the more we see her suffering in sheer raw pain, the more we feel for her. It’s a first-rate performance in one of the better adult dramas of the year.
Netflix presents a film written and directed by Sian Heder. Running time: 111 minutes. No MPAA rating. Opens Friday at Arclight Cinema and on Netflix.