REVIEW: Tallulah

30 07 2016

Tallulah“Juno” still ranks among the top 10 quoted movies at my house, so it should come as no surprise that the on-screen reunion of that film’s mother-daughter pair (Allison Janney and Ellen Page) in “Tallulah” came as a welcome development. And, even better, the film centers around issues of maternity!

In Sian Heder’s new film, Page stars as the titular character, a nomad who scoops an infant from drugged-up trophy wife Carolyn (Tammy Blanchard) during a babysitting gig. The point of departure for the story provides an intriguing counterpoint to “Juno.” Page claims a child here uninvitedly and receives one in her Oscar-nominated role unwittingly.

There’s a bit of standard police procedural – involving Uzo Aduba as a child services officer! – investigating the victim and plaguing the conscience of the perpetrator. But “Tallulah” is far less about the intrigue of what will happen to the child in question than it is about the issues raised by its presence or absence for the trio of grown women in the film. Amidst some of the tonal and plot issues, raw emotions bubble to the surface as each grapples with the thorny personal issues.

Most moments of duress revolve around the characters’ insecurity over feeling needed by someone else and the overwhelming sensation that they are replaceable – even disposable. It’s often jarring how quickly “Tallulah” can pivot from light-hearted banter to soul-baring confession, but no one pulls it off better than Janney as Margo, the woman unknowingly caught in the middle of Tallulah’s scheme. She navigates a narrow path between assertiveness and apprehension, unsurprisingly finding her bearings with gusto. B-2stars

REVIEW: The Invitation

25 06 2016

The InvitationKaryn Kusama’s “The Invitation” always feels like a well-executed genre flick, but which genre exactly? That question seems wide open. Over the course of its runtime, the film can resemble a claustrophobic domestic psychodrama, a tense thriller and a dramatic examination of guilt. The whole cult aspect of the plot is practically the most normal thing about it.

“The Invitation” unfolds as secluded couple David and Eden (Michiel Huisman and Tammy Blanchard) formally invite over some friends for a dinner party. The guest list is a multicultural melting pot, though two guests really stand out – Eden’s ex-husband Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and new girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi). The unspoken consequences of a past some would rather forget loom large over the proceedings, as much as they try to pretend no elephant has parked its carcass in the room.

As they raise a glass to new beginnings, it might also be the end for some of the unsuspecting visitors. David and Eden proudly yet quietly herald their new membership in a fledgling religious group. Like many such fringe groups, the leaders seem to have preyed on their vulnerable states to induce loyalty and faithfulness. And now, they proselytize with surprising normalcy.

Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi keep details about the cult scant in their script, instead focusing on the effects it has on the characters who have accepted or scoffed at it. While a jarring tonal shift in the final act somewhat belies the normalcy they so carefully establish, “The Invitation” still provides a chilling, exciting twist on a wide variety of stories. B2halfstars

REVIEW: Rabbit Hole

20 11 2010

Losing a child is painful in the real world, but in the sphere of cinema, it’s hardly breaking new ground.  In order to communicate the emotional trauma of such an event, movies have to take the material in different and unexpected directions.  “Rabbit Hole” is a success story, presenting the story of husband and wife affected by the preventable death of their four-year-old son in entirely different ways.  John Cameron Mitchell takes the great theatrical aspects of David Lindsey-Abaire’s Pulitizer Prize-winning play and reminds us the power that great dialogue can have while also using the great resources of film to supplement the already incredibly powerful film.

Nearing the one-year anniversary of their son Danny’s passing, Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) are still reeling.  Caught in the unenviable conundrum of choosing to mourn or move on, each find a different way to cope with the void in their lives.  Becca tries to find life by acting like the hole isn’t there, removing the traces of Danny that remind her that he is gone.  She finds solace, strangely, through talking with the teenager that hit her son.  Becca also has to deal with the pregnancy of her irresponsible sister (Tammy Blanchard), which only complicates her volatile emotional state, and the intervention of her mother (Dianne Wiest), eager to offer advice after going through the loss of a son in her own right.

Howie, on the other hand, tries to hang on to the fading memories of his son, particularly by watching a video of Danny on his phone.  Rather than try to adjust to life without his son, he advocates starting a new life altogether.  He pitches selling their house and having another child, neither of which are received well by his wife.  Howie has faith in the traditional methods of dealing with grief, holding onto the belief that the group therapy sessions can work long after Becca gives up on them. When those who look to religion to solve their problems finally drive her away from the group for good, he strikes up a friendship with an eight-year veteran (Sandra Oh) still looking to make peace with the loss of her child.

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