#52FILMSBYWOMEN is a campaign launched by Women In Film in an attempt to raise awareness of female filmmakers. Their initiative asks cinephiles to watch a female-directed film once a week for an entire year, and in this series I will document the films I watched as a part of this pledge.
In the sharply written Juno, Ellen Page played a teenager who gives her baby up for adoption. Nearly a decade later, in an ironic twist (though I’m sure entirely intentional), Sian Heder reunites the actress with her Juno stepmother Allison Janney in a tale in which a young runaway (played by page) abducts a baby from its irresponsible parent.
Lu (short for Tallulah) and her boyfriend Nico (Evan Jonigkeit) are two drifters with close to nothing but the clothes on their back and the van in which they live. They sleep, steal, have sex and little else. One night, the couple have an argument when Nico suggests he wants to go home and reconnect with his family, prompting him to abandon Lu the next morning. Uncertain of her next step, she decides to travel to New York in search of him, eventually landing at the feet of Nico’s estranged mother Margo (Janney), but she’s hastily shooed away when she asks for money.
In hunt for nourishment, Lu goes to an upscale hotel where a mix-up causes her to be mistaken for housekeeping. Here she meets Carolyn (Tammy Blanchard), a married, self-involved, neglectful mother, who asks the befuddled Lu to babysit her baby daughter, Maddison, while she goes on a date with another man. When she returns, drunk and despondent, Lu impulsively takes the child and seeks refuge at Margo’s apartment, claiming that the baby is her daughter and Margo’s granddaughter.
As baby-napping stories go, Tallulah is a relatively easy-going one; with instances of light-hearted comedy and cutesy baby moments cutting through some of the more depressing, melodramatic aspects of the narrative. Janney and Page makes for smart casting in the pseudo mother-daughter roles, with Janney being her usual brilliant uptight self and Page carrying shades of the narcissistic, roguish charisma that made Juno so appealing. Their charming odd-couple relationship is essentially what gives the story its beating heart, helping to paper over some of the stylistic faults and plot contrivances.
Heder is ultimately forgiving of Maddison’s mother, and while it’s understandable that she would want to give the character a redemptive arc, the film arguably would’ve benefited with a harsher, enigmatic conclusion – but then that perhaps would be asking for a different movie. With an intriguing central conceit apparently based on a real-life situation the director found herself in, Heder announces herself in perfectly assured style.