Directed by Paul Weitz
Starring Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Marcia Gay Harden, Judy Greer, Laverne Cox, Elizabeth Peña, Sam Elliot, Nat Wolff.
A teenager facing an unplanned pregnancy seeks help from her grandmother, an unconventional writer recently broken up with her girlfriend.
Exploring the comic potential of cultivated misanthropy, Grandma is an illuminating and profound low-budget drama that benefits from a fantastic central performance, incisive writing and an overall curiosity about the human condition.
The film is primarily a vehicle for Tomlin’s tremendous portrayal of Elle Reid, a world-weary poet and academic adept at firing off acerbic put-downs of anyone who gets in her way and LA society in general. Tomlin previously worked with director and writer Weitz (About A Boy) on 2013’s Tina Fey comedy Admission and the actor certainly benefits from the confidence and the space to deliver an intensely strong and believable performance.
After dumping her much younger girlfriend Olivia (Judy Greer) Elle is called upon by her granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) to help fund an abortion for her unwanted pregnancy. Trouble is, Elle doesn’t have any cash and she’s just cut up her credit cards in order to create a rather stylish looking modern art piece. But beyond all the caustic one-liners and biting comments, Elle has a good heart and wants to help Sage out. So they head off in her 1955 Dodge Lancer (Tomlin’s own car) in search of the necessary $630.
In essence, the film centres on one contentious topic – abortion – but the scope of the movie tackles a whole collection of subjects, with drug use, 60’s rebellion and gender politics all falling under Elle’s steely gaze.
Passing the ‘Bechdel test’ with a Grade-A score, Grandma is such an entertaining movie it sometimes lets you forget just how controversial this film might be in some quarters. Indeed, apart from Sam Elliot’s memorable turn as old acquaintance Karl, the film is centred on the women at the heart of the story. Sage’s ex-boyfriend (Nat Wolff) – and part reason for the trip – also appears briefly and gets a hockey stick in the groin for his troubles.
As well as Sage and Elle, Elle’s daughter Judy (Marcia Gay Harden) cuts a busy figure with her hard-headed business CEO approach to life. Still, she has money and she can provide. And sometimes that is exactly what daughters -and mothers – need more than anything else.
Overloaded with brio and chutzpah, this is a movie with heart, soul and guts. It is also unexpectedly moving when you least expect it. Fantastic film – and heartening to see a film about abortion starring an older woman not only getting distribution, but also bring widely celebrated.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★★
Robert W Monk is a freelance journalist and film writer.