MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Grandma’ Is A Definite Must-See

Film: Grandma
Starring: Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner
Directed by: Paul Weitz

Featuring an instantly iconic performance from Lily Tomlin, Grandma is one of the year’s absolute best.

A lot of movies are big on plot and light on heart, but Grandma is the opposite. Sage (Julia Garner) is a teen girl who recently discovered she is pregnant. Having already settled on having an abortion, she visits her grandmother in hopes of receiving the money needed for the operation. Grandma (Lily Tomlin) has no money, but she promises to help her granddaughter find the cash, and together they embark on a mission to find cash that will lead them to encounter people from their past and present, as well as a few strangers who cannot help getting in the way.

And where is mom? She exists (and is portrayed wonderfully by Marcia Gay Harden), but Sage and Grandma would prefer to not involve her in this adventure. The fear they both have over how she will react to any given situation is part of what makes their bond so strong. They see one another as the best lifelines they have, and that love gives them the strength to push forward in their journey, even as the odds against them continue to rise. She does appear though, and when she does you immediately understand why our leads were so hesitant to contact her from the beginning.

Grandma, otherwise known as Elle, is not the kind and gentle old woman you may be picturing in your mind. Tomlin’s portrayal is one that is heavy on sass and cynicism, both of which have roots in heartache. Prior to the film opening, Elle’s partner of many years passed away, and try as she might, Elle cannot move on with her life. She’s recently resorted to extremes in order to remind herself she is capable of being on her own, including the decision to tear up her credit cards and use the pieces to create a wind chime. It’s actions like this that confuse Sage, and to be honest l think they confuse Elle to an extent, but nevertheless her love for her granddaughter is never in question. She would die for Sage, but fortunately that is not something required in order to complete the task at hand. She will, however, have to face some truths about herself she’d rather not recognize.

It wouldn’t be surprising for a film like Grandma to play it safe with its second and third acts, relying on the camaraderie of the leads instead of the story, but nothing about this film is safe. From the moment Sage and Elle embark on their journey all bets are off. The places they go, the people they encounter, and the conversations had are all surprising in their own way. The basic premise is never lost, but each character undergoes a fairly dramatic transformation over the course of the film’s surprisingly short 84-minute runtime. By the time we arrive at the clinic, no one is who they were when the story began, and every change to who they are has been entirely justified by the actions on screen.

I want to make special mention of Sam Elliot. He appears in the film for less than fifteen minutes, but in that time he delivers his best and perhaps sexiest performance in over a decade. To describe his role in the story would be to spoil a good surprise, but I will say he and Tomlin need to do more work together as soon as possible. Additional supporting roles come from John Cho, Laverne Cox and Judy Greer, all of whom perform admirably.

There are few films that are so good and simple that they leave you with little to say other than a strong recommendation, but that is exactly the way I would describe Grandma. Everything about this film, from the script, to the cast, direction, and performances is worthy of praise. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Tomlin received numerous nominations for her performance, nor if the story itself received nods for Best Original Screenplay. In fact, based on everything I have seen so far in 2015, I believe both have a good chance to win.


James Shotwell
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