Pillars of the Church
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52 Movies: Week 43 - Grandma


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.


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A comment on the subject matter in relation to this blog, or for that matter ethics in general: I don't really consider any topic intrinsically off limits. It's all a matter of how the artist(s) treat it. I haven't seen this movie so I don't know how it treats abortion, though Stu says it's not lightly. But I'm pretty sure I've seen Lily Tomlin's name in the news in association with pro-euphemism causes. Which is pretty sad. Unfortunately it's the case in our society now that a lot of gifted artists have deeply compromised their consciences in this way. In time history will probably hold it against them, the way we hold support for slavery against people of the past. And yet we know that many of them were admirable in other ways. It's the same with a movie like this. If it ends up with Sage and Elle celebrating the elimination of their child/great-grandchild, that's a big mark against it, and yet it can coexist with the aspects Stu praises.

I don't disagree with you, Mac. All I'm trying to say is that when art is able to accurately reflect life, then it transcends the issues it focuses on to some extent.

Right, and I'm not arguing with you, just making some remarks of my own on the subject. And I guess making sure I don't leave the impression that I'm indifferent to the moral questions involved.

So Sam Elliot is this guy:


He's very familiar but I never knew his name.

His voice and mustache may be more famous than he as an actor. :)

I am watching Apu Sansar on FilmStruck.


Oh my goodness, you can watch so much stuff on here.


I got an email saying it's available. Haven't signed up yet. But I'm going to.

Looked to see if Grandma is on Netflix. It is. Here is the description:

"Elle Reid (Lily Tomlin) has just gotten through breaking up with her girlfriend when her granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) unexpectedly shows up needing $600 before sundown. Temporarily broke, Grandma Elle and Sage spend the day trying to get their hands on the cash, as their unannounced visits to old friends and flames end up rattling skeletons and digging up secrets."

What's missing?



I'm puzzled as to why she only has one day.


I think in their hearts everybody knows it's a bad thing, even if they think it's justifiable.

This is one I probably won't watch. Besides the subject matter, I've never been a Lily Tomlin fan, going all the way back to her time on Laugh-In.

I actually don't know that much about her as a performer. Wasn't she the one who had the telephone operator routine long ago? I thought that was funny.

I missed Janet's "one day" comment above. Yeah, that is a good question.

I think the answer to the "one day" question is as a plot device in order for there to be a sense of urgency and drive the narrative.

Yes, on the telephone operator routine, Ernestine was the character's name, I think.

No doubt (about the one day)--but surely there was some pretext?

She had made an appointment at the abortion clinic late that afternoon. I hated to type the word "abortion" again, and now I've done it two more times. :(

She being the granddaughter...

Of course, because nobody ever changed an appointment. That is a really weak premise. I mean, even in comparison to Star Trek.


Well, the movie is less about the appointment and the abortion, and more about the Lily Tomlin characters. Those things are simply the catalyst to get the movie going.

What's this about Star Trek, did I miss something? :)

Oh, they just have all these inconsistencies and weak premises.


Better to say it than to resort to euphemisms. She didn't have an appointment at the choice clinic.

I found the subtitles for Grandma and here's the granddaughter's explanation for why she needs the abortion that very day: "... they don't have another appointment open this week. I just feel sicker and sicker and I can't wait. And I feel sick."

Really too bad the film decided to present a stereotype of pro-life views. First, here's Grandma's take on religion in this exchange with the granddaughter:

- Am I gonna go to hell?

- What?

- Am I gonna go to hell? What if it's true?

- What are you talking about? Along with all the millions of other women who've had abortions?

- Yeah. Along with them.

- I don't believe in a vengeful God. When you're dead, you're dead. It's blackness. End of story. Void. Get used to it.

And then there's this bit with a pro-life woman outside the abortion clinic they go to:
- Don't kill your baby.

- Just ignore her.

- Your baby has fingernails.

- Not until 22 weeks, genius.

- Baby-killing slut!

- Is that how you talk in front of that sweet little girl [child with pro-life woman]?

- If you go in there, God will send you to hell!

Well, I probably wouldn't have finished the movie, unless I thought it was a work of supreme genius. I've really lost patience with people who trash the pro-life movement like that. It's just slander. Not that there aren't people in it who can be abusive like that (probably), but to paint that as the whole movement...I'm just not willing to put up with it anymore. It's bigotry.

Marianne is our research assistant.


An excellent one.

I'm sort of pleased in a way to hear the "blackness," "void" stuff from the movie. At least it faces the implications.

Since there are people willing to go in with guns blazing then there must be people who act as liberal Hollywood represents them in the movies.

That's in the final ten minutes of the movie. Again, the movie is not really about abortion, it's about the people and their relationships with each other.

You all would have loved Sam Elliott, he gets very upset about the abortion idea. So there are contrary views in the movie, it is not a pedantic "abortion is good, any other view is wrong".

There's always Alexander Payne's Citizen Ruth for a wackier take on pro and anti abortion. I think he tried to make both sides look crazy, if I remember it correctly.

"...there must be people who act..."...yes, undoubtedly. But there are black people who commit crimes, too. You wouldn't defend movies that portray all black people as criminals. It's that negative and unjust stereotyping that I've really had way more than enough of.

I get that even what the Lily Tomlin character says is exactly that, one character's views. But I've been hearing this extremely unfair stereotyping since I first became aware of this whole issue over forty years ago, and like I said I just am not willing to listen to it anymore. I might enjoy the other aspects of the movie. Probably would. Btw this is definitely the movie that was reviewed in Lagniappe a month or two back.

~~~Don't kill your baby.
- Just ignore her.

- Your baby has fingernails.

- Not until 22 weeks, genius.

- Baby-killing slut!

- Is that how you talk in front of that sweet little girl [child with pro-life woman]?

- If you go in there, God will send you to hell!~~~

This sounds like a virtual pro-choice parody of a very similar scene in the movie Juno, which is very good, and is suprisingly even-handed on the abortion issue.

Juno is a great movie!

Yes, I thought of Juno, too. Fingernails start growing at 12 weeks. Did they deliberately push that back or did they just not do their homework?


I saw Juno and liked it but have pretty much forgotten it now.

Rather more germane than fingernails is heartbeat, which begins very early.

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