DIR/WRI: Paul Weitz • PRO: Terry Dougas, Andrew Miano, Paul Weitz • DOP: Tobias Datum • ED: Jon Corn • DES: Cindy Chao, Michele Yu • MUS: Joel P. West • CAST: Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Marcia Gay Harden
Grandma is the latest feature from writer/director Paul Weitz, and boasts excellent performances, a stellar script, some of the most fleeting yet memorable characters to appear in a film this year, and an ability to send a message without being preachy.
As our story starts, we meet Elle Reid (Tomlin), a bitter, sarcastic old woman in the middle of breaking up with her much younger girlfriend of four months. Tomlin’s performance perfectly encapsulates the soul of her character: a woman dying on the outside, yet hard as a rock to the outside world. After the break-up, her teenage grand-daughter Sage (Garner) turns up on the door-step, knocked-up, broke, and in desperate need of an abortion.
And here we have one of Grandma’s greatest strengths: its refreshing lack of the usual song-and-dance routine about whether or not abortion is ethical. Sage needs $600 by 5:45 pm or she can’t get the abortion. Trouble is, she doesn’t want to go to her own mother, because she’s afraid of being judged to death, so she goes to her grandmother for the money, who unfortunately is broke for the next week; so they decide to embark on a day trip wherein they’ll travel around the city, meet Grannies old friends, and see if they can beg, borrow and steal enough money to pay for the abortion. Of course, it’s never explained why they can’t just cancel the appointment, wait a week until Granny gets paid, and then get the abortion, but the film overall is so stellar that I’ll give this plot-hole a pass.
So as our heroines get started on their road trip, we learn about the life of this particular grandmother. And what a character she is. In a lesser film, Elle Reid would be a doting, silly, not-all-there comic relief character – there to ease the tension while everyone else gets things done. Instead, she’s easily the most-capable character in the film, as forcibly determined as she is intimidatingly intelligent. I won’t give anything away, but this is one old woman that you do not want to mess with, throwing out sweet punchlines throughout the story that prove that the old dog is very much alive and kicking.
The acting across the board is excellent, with Julia Garner doing brilliantly as Elle’s young, timid grand-daughter, while Marcia Gay Harden, Judy Greer, Laverne Cox, John Cho and Sam Elliott all perform excellently during their brief appearances.
While it could be argued that this film really is just a linear sequence of character interactions that exist to fill time before the ending, it’s so well-executed that it’s difficult to fault it for being that. The film also succeeds on its ability to send across a positive message without preaching, landing a few excellent digs on the anti-abortion crowd, while casually referencing the abhorrent harassment that abortion-seekers get every day of the week in the U.S.A. The social commentary is subtle, nuanced, and doesn’t feel the need to beat you over the head with its message.
One of the best movies of the year.
78 minutes (See IFCO for details)
Grandma is released 11th December 2015