You know, “Grandma” written and directed by Paul Weitz, has all the ingredients of your typical coming-of-age road movie. You recognize the drill here: two disparate characters–one old, one young–on a journey of self-discovery. Not only do they learn more about themselves, but they come to understand each other more too. So many films use this particular recipe–I’m certain you’ve seen one before. But you know what most of them don’t have? Lily Tomlin. An astonishing, acerbic, passionate, vulnerable Lily Tomlin. 75-years-old at the time of the film’s release, and it could be her best performance since her debut in 1975’s “Nashville”. She garnered an Oscar nomination for that one 40 years ago. Here’s hoping she repeats that trick, with her 2nd later this week. She’s great.
Elle Reid is a seventy-something lesbian poet, still coping with the loss of her long-time partner. Elle is in a new, and troubled, relationship with a much younger woman named Olivia (the talented Judy Greer, getting wasted a lot this past year, but not so much with this role). Elle has had relationships with men in the past, and she is mother to a career-driven, middle-aged daughter (the indispensable Marcia Gay Harden, as Judy) from one of those couplings. But when Elle’s adorable, 18-year-old granddaughter, Sage (Julia Garner… just fine) shows up at her door, looking to get an abortion, plus protection from her overbearing mom, they take to Elle’s beat up old car, in search of ways to raise the 630 dollars for the procedure.
Ms. Tomlin is astonishing here. It’s her first starring motion picture role in decades, and she delivers in buckets. It’s a marvelous, fully realized star turn–a fantastic creation. Paul Weitz has been hit-or-miss as a director, but I’m very fond of his work with brother Chris, in 1999’s “American Pie” and 2001’s “About a Boy”. And he’s on target here. No, he can’t completely avoid the format’s clichés and conventions. So, some of the characters and scenarios presented in “Grandma”, feel a bit convoluted or forced. You know why it’s forgivable? Tomlin, that’s why. Forget Jennifer Lawrence, and her unjustified Golden Globe Best Actress win for “Joy”. This Lawrence love has gone too far. She should forfeit her award and give it to Lily. It would only be fair. Plus, it would make Emmanuelle Riva smile.
next review up: “The Big Short”