Tally Green (Martha Tilston) used to be a songwriter in London, but the experience put her off the business when she saw how money-focused it was. Instead, she upped sticks and moved to Cornwall where she lives in a van and tries to hold down a job cleaning houses, which she is singularly inept at despite her best efforts to help. However, after being dismissed from yet another dissatisfied customer, her boss at the agency offers her one last chance: an old lady has recently died and left a house empty, so if Tally can clean it up in preparation for the deceased's nephew arriving to decide the property's fate, then she is guaranteed a decent income for a while since there seems to be no urgency in selling it. But that house has a warm-sounding piano...
If the house had had a rinky-dink honky-tonk sounding piano, presumably the plot would not have gone anywhere, but that Joanna is important as it gives Tally all the excuse she needs to set aside her broom and vacuum cleaner and get down to doing what she does best, which is writing songs. And indeed, performing songs, which was not too much of a shock when you know Tilston was not only the star, but the writer and director and composer as well, for she was an established folk singer here branching out into movie making. A brave move, and one that depended on the audience liking her material, but you could say that about any film with a music base, and it wasn't a Mr Holland's Opus situation where you waited all story to hear the opus and it was terrible.
Tilston's songs were the strongest element, though oddly she did not give them much space to breathe until the narrative reached the last ten minutes, preferring to offer up about a minute of each tune at a time and leaving it at that, perhaps aiming for the "leave them wanting more" approach to her music. Nevertheless, it would have been a more substantial work had we heard a selection of the songs Tally toils over in full and less of the romance she strikes up with corporate lawyer in midlife crisis Leo (Lee Hart). Leo is the man who owns the house with the piano, but is too kindhearted (or a pushover) to tell Tally to sling her hook since she is effectively using the place as a squat as they bond over some nonsense about an imaginary dog. You could envisage The Tape being accused of tweeness, and it was certainly all over almost every scene despite the intermittent swearing to remind us we were watching adults.
The titular tape enters into it when Tally makes an analogue recording of her album on it and promptly loses it to Leo, who wants her to pursue the professional career rather than just do all this music for her own amusement and maybe the occasional concert in a local hall. Yet seemingly in an act of self-persuasion, Tilston had her alter-ego go from scepticism about reaching for success to embracing it in a way that might not have led to sold out stadium shows and multimillion dollar album deals, but then again nobody's saying they won't arrive on her lap either. Meanwhile we were treated to some attractive scenery of the Cornish coast as characters went beach combing, lending the production a pleasant, outdoorsy air to offset the star's slightly too studied gauche qualities (Tally's really only confident when she's singing and playing). Yes, it could be accused of being a vanity project, and this was unlikely to appeal to anyone outside of her fanbase, but could go some way to expanding it if it had the distribution: it was promising fodder for dinner party conversation, with the soundtrack on in the background.
[UK CINEMA RELEASE DATE:
Friday 24th September 2021.]