Lily Tomlin is “Grandma”
Writer-Director, Paul Weitz tailored “Grandma” for Lily Tomlin, and she is stellar in the role. The film was made on a $500,000 budget because the actors wanted to make this film. There is a genuine quality to it and, the performances seem very real. “Grandma” boasts a cast with Sam Elliott, Marcia Gay Hardin, and Julia Garner, Laverne Cox, Elizabeth Pena, and Judy Greer. The film is a drama but is punched by Tomlin’s “sarcaustic” one liners which give us comedic relief.
What brings grand-daughter, Sage to visit her grandmother? Sage, eighteen and pregnant, needs $600 for an abortion. She cannot turn to her mother, Judy, a corporate attorney, painted as the Dragon Lady who both Sage and Elle are afraid of. Is Elle really afraid of her own daughter? “I’ve been afraid of her since she was five years old.” They don’t get along. Judy, who was raised by a lesbian couple in Elle and Violet thinks both her mother and her daughter are nuts. And, her mother has anger issues.
Elle says she doesn’t have anger issues; she has issues with stupid people who make her angry. Their stupidity justifies her outbursts. The abortion brings grandma and Sage together and the long day is spent trying to raise the $600 dollars. Seems Elle has paid of all debts associated with her long-term lover/partner’s illness and death. She then cut up her credit cards to create a hanging mobile. “What kind of adult does not have a credit card?” Sage demands to know. They have until 5:30 to get the money and to make the abortion clinic appointment. Thus begins this unusual journey in which a strong bond of love develops.
It also is a letting go for Elle as she comes to grips with the death of her partner, Violet. Elle goes to tattoo artist, Deathy, played by Laverne Cox, who owes her $400, and ends up with a tattoo on her shoulder instead of getting the money. She decides to sell her signed first edition books on feminism to Carla (Elizabeth Pena), who had wanted to buy them. At the shop, she runs into her recent fling, Olivia (Judy Greer), and all hell breaks loose. Elle loses her temper, gloriously speaks her mind, and leaves without the cash.
Whom to hit up next? That leaves Karl, whom Elle had married and left years ago. Sam Elliott is excellent as the jilted husband, who, though he has had serial marriages, and umpteen children and grand-children, still has not forgotten his first love. Elle says he has had “serial wives” and wonders if one will pop into the room. For the $500, all Karl wants is a kiss. Well he’d also like sex and an apology. Sam Elliott gives a very different performance. He is affable, charming, and roguish but brilliantly transitions into anger. He has not gotten over Elle, his wife leaving him in the middle of the night and disappearing from his life. The anger masks his hurt and vulnerability. And, we get the full spectrum of Karl as he breaks down and cries over a life lost, a love lost. That was such excellent acting! Elliott had such good dramatic range.
It is time to go to the Dragon Lady, Sage’s mother. Judy is on a desk-treadmill which is a metaphor for her life. She is a multi-tasker and on a precarious treadmill to balance her career, her mother and her daughter. She and Elle don’t get along; and she and Sage don’t get along. She is all business and seems to have inherited her mother’s anger issues. She had two mothers in Elle and Violet, and she was closer to Violet.
There are comedic scenes which are priceless gems as Elle beats up the teenage loser, Cam (Nat Wolff) who impregnated Sage. That was so funny. And Elle loses it in a coffee shop. Seems her discussion on abortion is disturbing the customers. She reminds the manager (John Cho) that she also is a customer. Then she refers to two customers, as “Ozzie and Harriett,” and she deliberately drips the “drip coffee” all over the floor as she leaves in a huff.
“Grandma” is a film about love, loss, relationships, and life lessons. In just one day with Grandma, Sage starts to learn to speak up for herself under Elle’s tutelage. And, Elle learns to soften a bit and apologize for her actions. Maybe Elle, Judy, and Sage can all get along?
The core of this film is about finding oneself; whether one is 18 or 70. One can always learn through a bond of love. Elle has a lot to learn and so do Sage, and Judy. This is a film with a lot of heart at its core. Tomlin is in top form in this vehicle written for her.
In the Q and A with writer-director Paul Weitz, this film had been kicking around in his head for years. It started as an idea of a mentor-film between an older man and a boy. The idea sat in the back of his mind until he met Lily Tomlin, in 2013 when he directed her in his film, “Admission,” and, then knew he wanted his film to be a female mentor-film about a girl and her grandmother starring Lily Tomlin. Weitz said he wrote the film in longhand in about a month. Then he and Tomlin fine-tuned it. Lily had ideas that enhanced and brought a reality to the characters. In real life, she and her partner Jane have been together 40 years and as a couple, they are not perfect. So, even though Violet was dead, Lily said any couple who has been together that long had issues and anger must have come up in their relationship. She didn’t want to sugarcoat it and paint Violet as a saint. Tomlin added bits from her life and from her relationship with Jane into the film. And Weitz listened and collaborated with Tomlin in the writing to incorporate her ideas.
Weitz said he thought he might have a scene with Violet, but then decided to only have her come through in Ellie’s memories. The old car that Ellie drives in the film actually is a car that had been in Lily Tomlin’s driveway; and it had not been driven because Jane had forbidden Lily to drive it. It became clear to the audience at the Q and A that this film was a labor of love. In the Q and A, Weitz told us that “Grandma” was filmed in 19 days. So, it percolated for years in his mind, reached fruition through Lily Tomlin and was made on a very low budget in rapid time and is an excellent heart-warming film with meaningful and dynamic performances from the ensemble cast.
Our audience applauded at the end of the film. I highly recommend “Grandma.” It was a kind of “Thelma and Louise” but with a grand-mother and grand -daughter. Check your theaters for local listings.