A 9-year-old orphan named Tulsa (Livi Birch) is one of those teen-prodigies who lives and acts older than her age. Before being rescued by the police from her abusive foster mother, she has been acting like an adult to her foster brother who is much younger. As she bids-adieu to her brother who finds a temporary home, Tulsa is left to fend for herself.
The assigned social service operator Jaylene (Nicole Marie Johnson) is worried. She doesn’t understand where to place her as almost all possible doors have been closed for foster care. However, Tulsa is laid back and happy. She is just the kind of cheery kid who you would want to punch in the face if she was older. The film presents her as a do-gooder, a god-worshipper, and an upper-fixer. Her next project, you ask? Possible acholic-pill-popping-bike-ridding-marine-corp-dad Tommy Colston (Scott Pryor). A walking cardboard who doesn’t just try to act but also co-directs and writes this film.
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Now, don’t get me wrong as I go in straight into hating this film. But come on? It’s asking for it. The intelligent-child trope who saves the man-child is not the only tired cliché here. There are tons of problematic, sit-com-like comedic situations thrown in to gloss over the rather gritty and serious themes at hand. It doesn’t just glide over the problems but also kind of steps on the fact that it’s sole aim is to be a tear-jerker.
The characters and their motivations are just downright obnoxious. Their existence in the real world is not a big question mark as much as it is an exclamation. I mean, what dad would threaten small kids, and what director would put Clueless-Esque young girls as a possible bullying threat just to extend the runtime? The film not only does many wrongs, it justifies all its actions by presenting a larger-than-life image for the kid in question. It’s not just sappy but also problematic.
The saddest part is, it’s trying really hard to construct a narrative of redemption but the problem is it never knows how to get there without spewing nonsense in the name of faith, love, and religion. The dialogues are so cheesy and dramatic that even the writers of the most idiosyncratic faith-based drama will be put to shame. Also, when it’s not acting all self-righteous and oddly gooey, it pretends that it is based on a real story so you should take it seriously. In spite of being based on a supposedly real story, Tulsa is a movie that feels more fabricated than any form of fiction ever could.
The acting is just downright bad. Save for the charming smile of the kid, whenever there’s a spoken dialogue where she passed on adult decisions you just cringe. Scott Pryor is worse as the dad because he doesn’t do much with his one-note, substance abuse caricature. Trust me when I say that I’m not God-a-phobic (that’s an actual word the kid says) but this is the kind of film that makes me want to not believe in his existence entirely.