Grandma - Essential and Entertaining
Dir: Chris Weitz
Written by: Chris Weitz
Starring: Lily Tomlin, Sam Elliot, Julia Garner, Laverne Cox, Marcia Gay Harden, Judy Greer
Abortion is still a provocative issue. There is plenty of blatant misinformation and very rarely will you see somebody with a middle of the road stance on it. Approaching it in movies is never easy because of this. There have been more and more films that have tried to in recent years. A notable example is OBVIOUS CHILD, from 2014. I really wanted to like OBVIOUS CHILD, and tried as hard as I could to praise it in my initial review.
That movie unfortunately isn’t very good, and it has to do with two factors; one being the script, the abortion in question is written into it about as organically as a commercial, the other is Jenny Slate, who I just find seriously insufferable as a comedienne. She was on PARKS AND RECREATION, which is a show I otherwise really like, but hers was easily one of the most unbearable characters. She seems to think that making more noise means what she’s saying will become funny, and it really never does. I gave the movie the benefit of the doubt, because for the time there was nothing like it.
Thankfully GRANDMA is more enjoyable, much funnier, and an all-around better movie. It weaves the abortion into the narrative nicely, it’s treated with respect, and yet it isn’t the sole reason to like the film. Anybody could watch this movie, it’s not something made solely to preach to the choir. It’s an ‘abortion comedy’ to be certain, but it’s also a solid character study, a good slice of life movie, and a great analysis on where Lily Tomlin is now.
Elle Reid (Tomlin) just broke up with her girlfriend (Judy Greer). That same morning her granddaughter (Julia Garner) comes to her with some problematic news, she’s pregnant, has an abortion scheduled for that evening, and doesn’t have the money to pay for it. What follows is Elle driving her around as they visit various friends of hers (and the father of her ‘great-grandchild’, in what is probably the strongest comedic scene in the movie). As a framing device, this works wonderfully, as the script plays it like Elle is having a memorable day with her granddaughter.
Tomlin is brilliant, her comic timing is as quick as ever, and she carries an acerbic wit and strength that gives the character a lot of personality. Julia Garner is natural as the granddaughter, and does a good job as the comic foil. The film has a strong ensemble cast; some standouts include Laverne Cox as a tattoo artist, Nat Wolff as the aforementioned baby-daddy, and the strongest of the bunch is probably Sam Elliot as Elle’s former husband. It’s a strange way to see Elliot, who is an actor we’re not used to seeing this vulnerable. He is quite good in the role, even if he is only in one or two scenes.
The film is well-constructed narratively, juggling its characters with confidence. Director Paul Weitz treats the subject matter with respect and honor. The film isn’t afraid to have its characters lay it out bare, or to get emotional, but it’s never schmaltzy. GRANDMA never abandons its realism. Realism on its own isn’t much of a selling point, but the film has enough personality and humor to balance it. It is one film of only a small few, but that’s not what makes it worth seeing necessarily. See it because it’s funny, because it has charm, because it has characters you can care about.