Director: Paul Weitz
Writer: Paul Weitz
Cast: Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Judy Greer, John Cho, Nat Wolff, Laverne Cox, Elizabeth Peña, Sam Elliott, Marcia Gay Harden
Part of: identities Festival special screening
Seen on: 10.6.2016
Elle (Lily Tomlin) is not necessarily in the best of places. She has no money. She just broke up with her girlfriend Olivia (Judy Greer). And then her granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) stands at her door and lets her know that she’s pregnant and needs an abortion. Sage and Elle are in complete agreement that Sage’s mother (Marcia Gay Harden) can never find out. So what is a penniless grandmother to do? She grabs Sage, starts the car and goes in search of money to fulfill her granddaughter’s needs. Even if it costs her whatever remains of her dignity.
Grandma is a different kind of road movie with a great concept that lives off grumpy Lily Tomlin and her sharp comic delivery. I enjoyed it immensely.
Grandma was almost perfect. It was amazingly refreshing to see not only an older woman who has an active sex life, but it’s an active lesbian sex life and with a much younger woman to boot. Then the fact that the abortion itself was not cause for a morality drama, although the difficulties surrounding the topic were not glossed over. It is not great for Sage that she has to get one. But it’s also clear that it’s the best choice – and Elle knows it and is understanding, relating to Sage’s experience. Watching the pair of them travel from guest star to guest star with great performances all around and always a very nice sense of humor in its pocket was wonderful entertainment.
It is only at one point that the politics of the film really rankled me, and that’s when Elle visits Karl (Sam Elliott). They used to date a long time ago, and quite seriously at that. But then Elle ran off with a woman. And of course they play her relationship with Karl off as a mistake, resulting from her confusion about her own sexual identity. And while I’m all in favor of people being allowed to change their identities as often as they like and I know that there are people who realize quite late that they may be into one gender and not another, this scene is simply straight out of the biphobic playbook. And as a bisexual myself, scenes like that (“I was confused”, “I don’t like using labels”, “I simply love people”, “it was just an experiment”) always are a slap in the face, even if the sentiment itself is valid. There are simply too few films where people just outright say they’re bi when they are.
But fortunately that was just a short moment in an otherwise excellent film. I’m ever so grateful that Lily Tomlin is having a big comeback now because she is awesome and her recent roles may be very similar, but there are not enough loud, weird, unusual old women in my pop culture anyway, so I’m happy to have them and have them played by her. Julia Garner, too, whom I have had my eye on since Electrick Children, is fantastic in her role.
Weitz mixes his great ingredients into a wonderful dish, something I honestly didn’t expect from him and that he may have achieved with About a Boy the last time (I admit that I haven’t seen all his films in the meantime). I left the cinema with a big smile on my face and a warm feeling in my stomach, the second abortion comedy (after Obvious Child) to achieve that. I approve and want more of it.