In Grandma Lily Tomlin plays the title character Elle Reid. Elle is a lesbian, poet, academic, mother, grandmother, widow (of a wife), who was formerly married to a man and is enlisted by her granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) to help her gather up $630 for an abortion. I am not callous enough to think, “This sounds like the perfect movie to review for Mac’s blog!” But after watching it I thought that it was; it was sort of wonderful in ways I will try to explain.
For starters Lily Tomlin is really just amazing. I looked her up on Wikipedia and she is currently 77 years old, which probably made her 75 or so when the movie was filmed. Other than looking older and a tad shrunken she is just the same as she has always been. Someone with the ability to make the audience consistently interested, no matter the genre. This is of course one of those quirky little independent films with dramatic themes, along with comedy. The comedy of being human, I suppose. As it was finishing up I thought that its themes could be: the brokenness of all humans, and how when we are at our best we are doing all we can to help others (and especially family members) through the toils of life. Feeling the need to get an abortion is not a laughing matter, and the movie does not treat it jokingly.
Grandma is less than 90 minutes, and is a film that takes place in one day, dealing with the quest described above. Although there is humor mainly in the crankiness and straightforwardness of the main character, the director uses these minutes wisely and you learn quite a bit about Elle and her life. Despite the nature of the plot, the subject matter is treated with sensitivity and compassion. I thought of my uncle who I used to spend a lot of time with when I lived in South Florida. I would go over to his house complaining about this person, or that person, some who were members of our own family. He would say to me, “He (or she) is doing the best that they can.” What do we do with people that we are inextricably tied to, but something about their personality, or something they have done which has made us feel wronged makes it so hard to be nice to them? In some cases to even speak to, or be around them? That is part of what Grandma is about.
Considering its slight length I cannot say too much about the actual plot without giving away most of it. If you really are considering watching, then stop reading now.
Elle has just broken up callously, with a much younger woman named Olivia (Judy Greer) when Sage comes calling with her sad little request. We immediately do not like Elle because of her dominant personality and the meanness with which she treats the sweeter Olivia. As the movie plays out we learn about: Elle’s wife Violet of 38 years who passed away less than two years ago; Sage’s mother, who both she and her grandmother are afraid of; Elle’s ex-husband Karl (Sam Elliott), and the grudge he still holds towards her. But Elle is doing everything she can to support and help her granddaughter, and in doing so she is also helping herself get through her own crisis. The scene with Sam Elliott was so good I almost skipped back to the beginning of it to watch a second time – another great actor! [Note: It is the next day and I just re-watched the scene. Just as good as the first time.]
Suddenly there was a scene featuring Elizabeth Pena and I thought, “Isn’t she dead?” Sadly, she is. This is how I backed up to at least 2014 as when the movie was filmed. Marcia Gay Harden plays Judy, Sage’s mother, and Elle’s daughter.
Well, I enjoyed the movie a lot, and felt quite moved at its conclusion. So there you go. I know that the subject matter is anathema to regular readers of Mac’s blog, but that’s okay. That’s life and we’re all a little uncomfortable about something. As humans we toil through our existence, looking for answers and for people who can help us to find them. I love movies that seem like real people in real situations. It’s nice to be reminded that Hollywood can occasionally reach this lofty goal. Grandma is a really good movie.
Lily Tomlin and Sam Elliott. May they make movies forever!
--Stu Moore is a friend of this blog’s proprietor, and hopes that everyone excuses his liberal leanings.