Thursday, September 10, 2015

This is not your grandma's 'Grandma'

Lily Tomlin plays an acerbic grandmother on a quest.

It's difficult to think of any actress who more deserves center stage than Lily Tomlin. Tomlin has had a memorable career in movies, television and in one-woman shows. At 76, she's still a force.

In director Paul Weitz's Grandma', Tomlin plays Elle Reid, a poet whose moment in the sun long ago was clouded by the shadows of obscurity. A lesbian, Elle recently lost her long-time partner, and has turned even more sour than she might have been before.

The movie opens with Elle dispatching her much younger girlfriend (Judy Greer) by cruelly announcing that Greer's Olivia has been nothing more than a "footnote" in Elle's increasingly miserable life. Ouch!

Elle is drawn out of embittered solitude when her granddaughter (Julia Garner) turns up asking for money. Garner's Sage is pregnant and needs money for an abortion, a procedure she's scheduled for later that same afternoon.

Without shedding her snide side, Elle, who's newly broke, travels around Los Angeles in search of friends that might loan her the $600-plus needed for Sage's abortion.

The day long journey brings Elle and Sage into contact with a transgender tattoo artist (Laverne Cox of Orange is the New Black) and an ex-lover (Sam Elliott), the guy who she left years ago after acknowledging her gayness.

Both Sage and Elle are trying to avoid asking Sage's successful but angry mother (Marcia Gay Harden) for financial assistance.

The movie gives Elle space for a stream of rude encounters, one in a coffee shop, another at the apartment of the kid (Nat Wolff) who got Sage pregnant.

Elle's definitely a well-oiled mean machine, and she's played with no trace of vanity by a disheveled and massively cynical Tomlin.

But the truth is that we know that Elle really has a heart -- if not entirely of gold, at least of gold plate, and Grandma is sometimes hampered by both the modesty of Weitz's filmmaking and the predictability of his screenplay.
Weitz (About A Boy and American Pie) may have wanted to make a little, emotionally affecting movie -- and, but the end, it is.

Although it grapples with issues involving abortion and abiding unhappiness, Grandma proves a minor success, notable mostly for the way in which Tomlin, Garner, Harden and Greer all come to grips with a resolution wrought by the urgent pressures of the present and the sadness of the past.

Could the movie have been deeper? Sure. But because of Tomlin and her the movie's fine supporting cast, we probably should be grateful for what we've gotten.

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