Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Movie with Abe: Grandma

Directed by Paul Weitz
Released September 18, 2015

Every family has some crazy or eccentric relative who is well-known as such by all its other members. Sometimes it’s a zany grandparent who listens to no one and lives life by his or her own rules regardless of what others say or suggest. Often, such characters are born of old age, and an already crotchety or single-minded personality is only enhanced as faculties begin to weaken. Other times, someone is just like that his or her whole life. “Grandma” checks in with the singular Elle (Lily Tomlin) when the title hints at her age, but it’s clear from the start that Elle has never been one to conform to anything she didn’t personally feel like adopting.

Elle makes a rough impression in the film’s first scene, as her much younger girlfriend Olivia (Judy Greer) tries to have an open conversation with her about the difficulties of their relationship and ends up being called a footnote by her enraged partner who tells her to leave her key on the way out. Shortly after that wonderful interaction, Elle’s granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) shows up, asking for Elle’s help in putting funds together for the abortion she has scheduled that afternoon and is too afraid to fund with money from her condescending mother. Because the free spirit cut up her credit cards and made a work of art with them, an in-town road trip ensues, with stops along the way at all the people that Elle has wronged and spat on over the years.

In some ways, it’s hard to believe that a person such as Elle actually exists, since the poet does have substance and isn’t defined by something as small as racism, rather an argument that she doesn’t have an anger problem, just an asshole problem that causes her to get angry. Her language is coarse and she has no patience for anyone trying to call her out on the way she lives her life. Seeing her come to the staunch defense of her granddaughter while still pointing out her flaws is exceptionally interesting, and this short-distance road trip is an entertaining delight to behold.

Tomlin has received a Golden Globe nomination for her performance in the same year as she is honored for her flightier if still humorous role on Netflix’s “Grace and Frankie.” She is a strong, incomparable centerpiece in this film, and it would be nice if the film itself was honored along with its equally deserving lead actress. Garner and Marcia Gay Harden contribute positively to the film as well opposite Tomlin, but it’s Greer who steals all of her scenes and does a spectacular job of holding her own against Tomlin. This independent film is a great comedy and one that doesn’t try to accomplish much and manages to succeed with flying colors with what it does cover.


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