A teenager facing an unplanned pregnancy seeks help from her acerbic grandmother, a woman who is long estranged from her daughter.
Lily Tomlin has been a reliable character actress for a number of years across film and TV, so after a starring role in Netflix series ‘Grace & Frankie‘), it’s great to see her get a leading part in Paul Weitz latest film ‘Grandma’. Weitz film is a short and snappy indie road movie that follows Tomlin’s titular Grandma as she takes her granddaughter (Julia Garner) to get an abortion. The film is loosely billed as a comedy and the script does get a lot of mileage out of Tomlin’s acidic tones, but it hits the strongest beats when it focuses on the drama and this is where Tomlin really shines. The approach to the film is interesting, with the opening focusing more on the comedy and the light and zany aspects of the premise, before delving into the characters and ramping up the drama later on.
Tomlin plays Elle Reid, a lesbian poet struggling to cope with the death of her long term partner. We’re introduced to her as she falls out with Olivia (Judy Greer), her latest girlfriend, before her granddaughter Sage (Garner) turns up looking for money to pay for an abortion. What follows is a road trip as Sage and Elle try to source funds by various means, split into six sections marked by title cards. The narrative is as much about discovering details of Elle’s past and this information is parcelled out through various conversations that help to enlighten how Elle grew to become a fairly bitter and rude (albeit funny) person. As we learn more about Elle, our empathy for her grows and the film becomes a poignant character study that wisely doesn’t judge.
Tomlin is perfectly cast in the lead role, confidently balancing comedy and drama and hitting the emotional beats with subtle power. The strongest scenes in the film come with a visit to one of Elle’s old flames, Karl (Sam Elliott), where a breezy conversation hides some resentment from the past and unresolved issues. Sam Elliott is a fine actor with one of the greatest voices in Hollywood, and he expertly drifts from charming to angry to deeply broken through the course of a 10 minute sequence. Tomlin and Elliott are electric opposite each other and it’s from this point onwards that the film really hits a satisfying dramatic groove. There’s further support provided from the likes of Marcia Gay Harden as Elle’s daughter and several other familiar faces from the small screen.
‘Grandma’ is a slight movie, clocking in at 79 minutes, but it packs a bigger punch than you’d initially think and with a fine central performance from Lily Tomlin this is worth your time.
Directed By: Paul Weitz
Starring: Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Marcia Gay Harden, Judy Greer, Laverne Cox, Elizabeth Pena, Sarah Burns, Nat Wolff, John Cho and Sam Elliott