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REVIEW - Grandma - 5 out of 5 - by Don Gibble


Lilly Tomlin Earns "Grandma" Five Stars

By Don Gibble

Lily Tomlin fans who were upset that she didn't win the Oscar for her role in “Nashville” back in 1976 will be happy to know she will definitely win next year for her role in “Grandma”. Tomlin pretty much stole all her scenes as Tina Fey's acerbic radical feminist mother in the otherwise boring “Admission”, and it appears that director Paul Weitz thought so, too, as he wrote “Grandma” for Tomlin. Playing an ill-tempered lesbian on an all-day odyssey to raise the money her granddaughter needs for an abortion, Tomlin is in her glorious element. It doesn't hurt that there are numerous other expertly gauged performances to savor, plus a bundle of heart, in this small-scale but consistently funny and poignant comedy-drama.

While it's very much Tomlin's show, the movie is actually about three generations of women, the forces that shape and scar them, the thorny histories and divergent life choices that distance them, the lessons they absorb or ignore and the ties among them that weaken but seldom break. And though the termination of a pregnancy is what drives the plot, that sorrowful step is treated with the gravity it warrants in a story that's also about the many imperfect paths of motherhood. “Grandma” is not as self-congratulatory and in-your-face as the recent “Obvious Child” about its evolved position on abortion as a regrettable but necessary option in many young women's lives. But there's admirable frankness, intelligence and sensitivity here. Additionally, the film is a thoughtful, funny reflection on the gains and losses of growing old.

A once-celebrated poet now barely scraping by on the academic beat, Elle (Tomlin) is introduced refusing to soften the breakup with Olivia (Judy Greer), her younger girlfriend of the past four months. Elle still has grief over her 38-year partner Violet's death a year and a half earlier. While Elle is sitting  around getting maudlin about the past, her granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner), a high school senior, rolls up to her Los Feliz house and drops the bomb that she's pregnant. Unwilling to tell her bossy mother, whose relationship with Elle is strained to say the least, Sage has scheduled an abortion for that afternoon and needs $600 to pay for it.

The film makes a sweet joke about lesbians and their wind chimes by having Elle's made out of the pieces ofher cut-up credit cards. Her strapped financial state means she has to call in favors to raise the cash, and her sour nature means there are few friends to whom she can turn. An attempt to pressure the baby's deadbeat father, Cam (Nat Wolff), yields minimal gains, but it does serve for Elle to sort him out with an ice hockey stick and score a bag of weed that comes in handy later.

Where the film really shines is in a beautiful scene with Karl (Sam Elliott), a mellow old romantic with four ex-wives and a tribe of grandchildren, who hasn't seen in Elle in 30 years. He agrees to lend her the money, but their painful unresolved history gets in the way before the deal is done.

This is a refreshingly modest, no-frills movie that is character-driven in the most rewarding possible sense, with an ample share of priceless dialogue played for truth, not for jokes. The performances are lovely, including that of up-and-comer Garner, who has many touching moments as Sage alternates between recoiling from and reaching for her mother and grandmother. The star here is Tomlin and you won't want to miss her amazing performance!