Synopsis: Elle Reid has just gotten through breaking up with her girlfriend when her granddaughter Sage unexpectedly shows up needing 600 dollars before sundown. Temporarily broke, Grandma Elle and Sage spend the day trying to get their hands on the cash as their unannounced visits to old friends and flames end up rattling skeletons and digging up secrets.
Release Date: September 4, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Last year, I said that Obvious Child was the funniest movie ever made about abortion. Well, I spoke too soon. That was before I saw Grandma.
Grandma stars Lily Tomlin (I Heart Huckabees) as Elle Reid, a semi-famous poet-turned-college professor who is slowly getting over the death of her longtime girlfriend. One morning, Elle’s granddaughter, Sage (Julia Garner from The Perks of Being a Wallflower), shows up at her door asking to borrow money for an abortion. Elle doesn’t have it but agrees to help Sage find the $600 that she needs.
Elle and Sage set off on a madcap journey, hitting up ex-lovers, friends, and acquaintances in an effort to raise enough money for the procedure before Sage’s appointment that evening. During their escapades, Sage gets to know things about her Grandma that catch her completely off-guard.
Written and directed by Paul Weitz (American Pie, Admission), Grandma is a fairly simple, point A to point B movie. What really sells it is the characters, and particularly that of the titular grandma. She’s not a typical movie grandma, senile and feeble while sitting in a rocking chair, knitting all day.
Elle is sharp, quick, and venomous, but she’s also got a sensitive and vulnerable side, and the more the audience learns about the woman, the more they identify with her and want her to succeed. And the movie is packed with revelations about Grandma Elle, each one more shocking and unexpected than the next – Grandma Elle and Sage have much more in common than just the familial blood running through their veins.
So, while Grandma is a highly enjoyable movie, and the lead role fits Lily Tomlin’s comedic sensibilities like a glove, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. It does, after all, deal with the tough subject of abortion and, more importantly, it tackles the topic of the breakdown of family communication head-on. Parts of it are heartbreaking. But there are more parts of it that are hysterical, and it strikes a wonderful balance between the two.
There is little doubt that Lily Tomlin’s performance absolutely carries Grandma, but she does get some help from her supporting cast. The other lead, Julia Garner, plays an effective straight man to Tomlin’s loveably grouchy brand of humor. Marcia Gay Harden (Magic in the Moonlight) plays Sage’s strict and sturdy mother, the disciplinarian to Grandma Elle’s understanding confidant. Some of the more poignant moments in the film come when Elle and Sage visit Elle’s ex-flame, a man named Karl (played by Sam Elliott from Digging for Fire and I’ll See You in My Dreams) who obviously still has feelings for her, and she tries to exploit that fact in order to squeeze the money out of him.
Tomlin and Elliott are great together, even if it’s only for a few minutes of screen time. Tomlin shares similar chemistry with Judy Greer (Carrie), who plays an ex-lover whom Elle takes in while trying to ease the pain of her soulmate’s death. The cast is rounded out by Elizabeth Peña (Jacob’s Ladder), Nat Wolff (Paper Towns), and Laverne Cox (“Orange is the New Black”), who all contribute small but crucial roles. Most of the screen time in Grandma is occupied by Lily Tomlin and Julia Garner, but every single member of the cast brings their A-game to the film.
Grandma seems to have been written for Lily Tomlin. The title character is full of a wit that is so acerbic and honest that one almost feels bad laughing at the jokes – they cut to the bone that cleanly. The humor in the film is almost exclusively derived from the spoken dialogue, but that’s the way it should be; it is way too smart of a film for it to include any slapstick or sight gags.
The subject matter is touchy, but it’s handled in a way that doesn’t seem exploitative – it’s weird to be laughing at a movie about a young girl who needs an abortion, but damn, the movie is funny. Tomlin serves up most of the laughs, with the rest of the cast just setting her up, but that’s what she does best; Grandma is Lily Tomlin in her element.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Paul Weitz
- Producer(s): Terry Douglas, Paris Kasidokostas Latsis, Andrew Miano, Paul Weitz
- Screenwriter(s): Paul Weitz
- Cast: Lily Tomlin (Elle Reid), Julia Garner (Sage), Marcia Gay Harden (Judy), Judy Greer (Olivia), Laverne Cox (Deathy), Elizabeth Peña (Carla), Nat Wolff (Cam), Sam Elliot (Karl)
- Editor(s): Jon Corn
- Cinematographer: Tobias Datum
- Production Designer(s): Michele Yu
- Costume Designer: Molly Grundman
- Casting Director(s): Douglas Aibel, Henry Russell Bergstein, Deborah Maxwell Dion
- Music Score: Joel P. West
- Country Of Origin: USA