Sometimes, the oldest people are the coolest.
Sage (Julia Garner) just had sex with her boyfriend (Nat Wolff) and, well, wouldn’t you know it? Turns out that she’s pregnant. So, rather than keeping it around and having to deal with all of that in her young life, she decides that she wants to get rid of it and have an abortion. Issue is, she doesn’t have the money. And even though her mom (Marcia Gay Harden) has plenty of it, she doesn’t want to bother her with the situation. So, that’s when she turns to her hip, cool grandmother, famed poet Elle Reid (Lily Tomlin), who is going through some issues of her own. One, she just broke up with her girlfriend (Judy Greer), and secondly, she doesn’t really have any money. So this means that the two will have to band together and search for money anywhere they can. For Sage, this mostly means going to the father of the unborn child and that’s it, but for Elle? Well, this means that she’s got to go way back in time to all of her friends and confidantes over the past many years, hit them up for money, and promise them favors she doesn’t really seem to keen on holding up.
A typical Grandma, you see?
Grandma is the type of vehicle that someone of Lily Tomlin’s talents deserves. Though people have loved seeing Tomlin show up every so often in random films, some good, some bad, it seems like she’s never been given that extra time to show and remind the world why she kicks so much ass. Heck, even Grace & Frankie, a show that’s purpoted as “Lily Tomlin’s”, really seems to be wasting her on tired, old hippie clichés.
Something that Lily Tomlin herself is much better than.
That’s why Grandma works as well as it does; not only does it give Tomlin the chance to shine and show the world the true talents that have been lying within her for so very long, but it also presents a solid character worthy of our attention, care and, possibly, love. Because as Elle Reid, Tomlin plays the typical stereotype of an aging lesbian who does what she wants, says what she wants, kicks whoever she wants to in the nuts, doesn’t give a flyin’ hoot about whatever anybody else says, and bangs whomever she oh so pleases. Are there people out there like this? Of course! But is this a bit of a bore to see?
However, that’s why Tomlin is so good here, as she not only transcends that stereotype, but shows that there’s a reason behind the way she acts. Not only is she still heartbroken and destroyed over the death of her long-time girlfriend, but she also’s coming to terms with her own mortality, as a whole. That’s why, on this little road trip Elle and Sage take, we start to learn more and find out about Elle herself – not just through what people tell us about her, but how they act towards her, even after all of these years. It’s this kind of story-telling and character-development that isn’t just smart, but engaging, as we don’t really know just what Elle’s life has been, but we get a good idea through the constant interactions she has with those around her.
And every step of the way, Tomlin is there to make it work. A lot of the “funny” dialogue that she has to work with can occasionally come off as cloying, and sometimes, annoying, but that’s only because the movie feels as if it has to present Elle as a wise-cracking granny. Having her just be a no-bullcrap woman is fine as is, all the added-on punch-lines and jokes at other’s expense, don’t really matter or work. There’s one painful scene with Nat Wolff, where he ends up getting kicked in the nuts and it’s played for laughs, in a shocking. almost outrageous way, but it never works and feels like a scene thrown in there because Wolff himself decided that he had a day or two to film his scene.
There are a few other weird scenes that play-out just like that, but it’s always Tomlin who keeps these moments, as well as these characters, grounded in some sort of reality that makes sense and can be, at the very least, relateable.
Aside from Tomlin, the rest of Grandma is pretty stacked with some heavy-hitters, all of whom are game for Paul Weitz’s script, adding in their own two cents whenever necessary. Julia Garner doesn’t really need to do much as Sage, instead just sit there and let Tomlin do all of the work, but she’s fine as is; Judy Greer gets a few solid scenes as Elle’s former-lover; Marcia Gay Harden is funny and exciting as Sage’s mom, which makes me wish that this probably was a movie about Sage, Elle and her character, all hangin’ around one another and getting into the occasional squabble; and there’s a few nice appearances from Colleen Camp, Laverne Cox, John Cho, and the late, great Elizabeth Peña.
But the real star of the supporters is Sam Elliott, playing one of Elle’s former lovers, as well as ex-husband, and gives perhaps one of his most “human” performances since Thank You For Smoking. This isn’t to say that all of Elliott’s little pop-ups in random pieces haven’t been unwelcome or bad – it’s more that it seems like he’s playing that same kind of character he’s been known for all along and rather than upending that appearance, he’s been fine with just staying the same, adding the grizzle whenever he feels necessary. Nothing wrong with that, but watching his performance here, it makes you wish that he was more demanding with his own roles, as he’s not only a bright spark of liveliness this movie needed, but gives us everything and anything we need to know about Elle and the sort of affect she had on those people in her life. We get the basic idea of what happened between them both, but really, we don’t know everything and that’s fine.
Grandma isn’t about knowing everything. It’s about the little details that can sometimes make people’s lives the most interesting.
Consensus: With a solid, but rare leading role from Lily Tomlin, Grandma works because of its gentle, tender care and attention to its characters and heartfelt themes, without overdoing it, even if the comedy doesn’t always work.
7.5 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire
I love that film and I love Lily Tomlin. I really enjoyed this film, although I appreciate the weaknesses you see in it. For me, it’s just terrific to see a great movie where older actors have all the great lines and are central to the story.
agree it was a terrific movie
I really liked Grandma when I saw it at a film festival last year. Not always perfect but so refreshing.