2015 seems to be the year for Lily Tomlin. Receiving an Emmy nomination for her superb work in Netflix’s “Grace and Frankie,” Tomlin generated festival buzz and had critics raving with her strong performance as Elle, the cantankerous lesbian poet and grandmother in “Grandma.” Writer/director Paul Weitz (“About A Boy”) had Tomlin in mind for this film after working with her in “Admission.” In fact, he explains in the film’s production notes, “I wrote the script hearing Lily’s voice.” Good thing too, because without Tomlin as its anchor, the film would have waded into the pool of overwrought domestic melodrama.
Divided into chapters, like “endings” and “apes,” works well for a film focused on a blocked academic poet like Elle. Everything she’ll face in the next ten or so hours will reflect on a chapter of her life. Opening on a bright, sunny morning, the film immediately starts with a crisis—Elle cruelly breaking up with a younger woman, Olivia (Judy Greer). This heart crusher is followed by a visit from her granddaughter, Sage (a winning Julia Garner), in need of $600 for an abortion scheduled for 5:45 p.m.
Financially this may have not been a big deal for Elle in earlier times. But now, having her long-time, now deceased lover’s doctor’s bills coupled with her impulsively cutting up her credit cards, Elle is cash and credit poor. Of course there’s Sage’s mom (a tough, corporate Marcia Gay Harden), but both are semi-scared of her and agree that seeking her out is not an option.
So Grandma Elle and Sage go on a journey, visiting people in their lives who owe them or may help with a loan. This acerbic and witty generational road movie mostly shows the complexities in Elle’s long and complicated life. Each person visited, whether a friend, lover, or even enemy, peels back a layer of Elle’s personality, which brings a thoughtful interaction between grandmother and granddaughter.
Shot in 19 days and with a brisk running time of 80 minutes, it’s refreshing to see a film focusing on relatable plights—pregnancy, family relationships, grief, money, car troubles, as opposed to summer’s usual super hero antics and explosions. Although it might not be “earth shattering,” it’s still nice to see fine actors like Tomlin, Garner, Harden, Greer, Laverne Cox, Sam Elliott, Nat Wolff, and John Cho show off their skills in “Grandma.”
Filmmaker Event: Writer/Director Paul Weitz will appear for Q&A sessions on Friday, August 21 after the 7:30 p.m. show at the Landmark Theatres, and after the 8:55 p.m. show at the ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood.
“Grandma” is 80 minutes, Rated R (for Language and some drug use), and opens August 21 in Los Angeles at the Landmark Theatres and ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood.