GRANDMA (USA/16/19mins)
Directed by Paul Weitz. Starring Lily Tomlin, Jedy greer, Marcia Gay Harden, Julia Garner, Laverne Cox
THE PLOT: After her girlfriend of four months breaks up with her, Elle’s (Lily Tomlin) granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) turns up at her door. Still in school and facing an unwanted pregnancy, Sage is looking for money for an abortion, money that Elle simply doesn’t have, after making wind chimes from her credit cards. Elle sets out to help her granddaughter, with a little help from old friends and acquaintances, but the path doesn’t always run smoothly.
THE VERDICT: It is hard to believe that not only is ‘Grandma’ Lily Tomlin’s first lead role in a movie in 27 years – her last was in ‘Big Business’ in 1988 – and that this witty, cutting and honest film is brought to us by Paul Weitz, whose first film was the teen comedy ‘American Pie’.
‘Grandma’ lives and dies on the shoulders of Lily Tomlin as Elle, and she is on wonderful, acerbic, caring and funny form as the lead character. Throughout the film it becomes clear that years of hardship and loss have made Elle a tough woman, but she still has layers of kindness under the surface. Tomlin’s timing – both comedic and dramatic – is wonderful, and she is smart, witty and just a little bit cruel. Julia Garner does well as Elle’s young granddaughter, and doesn’t allow Tomlin’s experience and presence to force her to the background. Marcia Gay Harden turns up as an angry and overwrought mother, Laverne Cox plays a kindly tattoo artist, Judy Greer plays Elle’s recent ex, who doesn’t stand for her shenanigans and Sam Elliott finally gets to play an emotive character for the first time in what feels like years.
Paul Weitz’s screenplay is smart and witty, but it is also incredibly cleverly constructed, allowing the audience to understand the characters, even if we only see them for a moment, and for vital information about Elle and her past to be revealed through conversation, with the audience left to fill in some of the blanks themselves, instead of through clunky exposition. Weitz’s story takes a look at the life of one woman in one day, but reveals much about Elle, the time she grew up in, and the loves and losses she has had along the way.
As director, Weitz allows Tomlin to be both agitator and commentator, and the one around whom the story revolves. The film is incredibly well paced, with the end of the film coming far too soon in this 79 minute movie. The audience could happily have stayed with Elle for much longer, but it is the mark of a well made movie that it does not outstay its welcome.
In all, ‘Grandma’ is funny, tragic and wonderful, with Lily Tomlin’s performance leaving us all wondering just why she has not had a leading role in so long. Weitz’s script is witty and well observed, and the supporting cast are strong in their small roles.
RATING: 5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

Grandma
Review by Brogen Hayes
5.0Witty and smart
  • filmbuff2011

    American Pie director Paul Weitz’s best film since About A Boy is Grandma, a smart, funny and at times touching cross-generational road movie. Elle (Lily Tomlin) is a writer and literary professor who has just broken up with her girlfriend Olivia (Judy Greer). They just couldn’t be satisfied together, moving towards different goals in their lives. It’s at this point that her granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) turns up on her doorstep with more bad news: she’s pregnant by loser Cam (Nat Wolff). She needs money for an abortion that evening. Elle hasn’t got much though, having cut up her credit cards and paid off all her debts recently. So, they decide to hit the road to drum up some cash from friends and family. Along the way, they meet friendly transgender tattooist Deathy (Laverne Cox), Elle’s former partner Karl (Sam Elliott) and Elle’s daughter / Sage’s self-obsessed mother Judy (Marcia Gay Harden) who hasn’t been told yet… At just 79 minutes, Grandma is a small but perfectly formed road movie with a warmly humourous odd couple angle. The contrast between the old, acerbic, seen-it-all Elle and the young, naive, not-too-bright Sage is beautifully played by Tomlin and Garner. Their chemistry is so good that you could easily watch them bicker and swap barbed insults for another hour. Garner is sparky and funny, but she gives her character some hopes for the future. The delightful Tomlin is an old hand at this, but her acerbic character comes across as witty and yet full of regret about the past. There’s a lot more to this grandma than seems at first – her backstory reveals many past mistakes which she has had to live with. Weitz’s script is spot-on about these two characters, taking a non-judgmental approach to the situation at hand and instead focusing on strong character development. It’s refreshing to find a story like this that doesn’t shoehorn in the politics of morality or the consequences that follow. This is a finely-crafted story about the present and how flawed characters deal with crisis situations. You can see the through-line in the three generations of women here – grandmother, mother and daughter. They’re all products of each other, but their simple humanity and determination to do what they feel is right is commendable. Grandma has no pretentions about what it is – and is all the better for it. This is a road movie well worth taking the journey with. ****