Rarely can some people raise hell like Lily Tomlin can. She is a forced to be reckoned with and not afraid to just let it all go in a strong but vulnerably revealing role as Grandma. As a self-described misanthrope, Elle Reid (Tomlin) has just ended her relationship with Olivia (Judy Greer) and is still struggling with the loss of her wife who died a year and a half before. Her misery is set aside for a bit when her 18-year-old granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) drops by and asks to be loaned some money because she needs help. Not having the money needed to provide her with, Elle and Sage end up taking a day-long journey to get the money needed. The journey has Elle confronting a lot of people and issues from her past, including her tumultuous relationship with her daughter Judy (Marcia Gay Harden) and former husband Karl (Sam Elliott).
If you thought the leading ladies of the spy movies this year were poster children for female empowerment, then you haven’t seen Grandma. Director and screenwriter Paul Weitz fills his film with several female characters that are unique and intriguing, which only serves to highlight the fantastic performance by Tomlin. The film covers a lot of what can be considered darker topics that many films either use for comedy or far too often as tropes that don’t hold any real meaning. So it’s nice that Weitz takes the film there and isn’t afraid to talk about topics most are uncomfortable to discuss or have a one-way street opinion on the matter. The women in the film are realistic. Tomlin’s character is brash, but she is also sensitive in a way that screams vulnerability and someone quite obviously running from her emotions and everything that haunts her past. Unsentimental she is not.
Any other person might have found it difficult to keep up with Tomlin, but Julia Garner gives a solid performance that highlights characteristics that make her the opposite of her grandmother. She is young and unsure of her life or herself, but it’s clear that the hardest decisions she’s making is one she is completely sure about making, but not in a way that is pressured by the adults around her. Garner and Tomlin have great chemistry and while Tomlin does most of the heavy lifting in the film, Garner’s character is the softer, rounder edges to Tomlin’s rougher ones. Marcia Gay Harden, Sam Elliott, and Judy Greer don’t get lots of screen time, but they make the most of what they’re given, complementing the lead characters while also getting a piece of the story line.
Paul Weitz infuses his film with witty dialogue, dark humor and sarcasm, and strong female characters who are showcased in every possible way. Tomlin’s performance is fantastic and immediately makes you either want to befriend her or get out of her way. Grandma is an unabashed look at different generational and matrilineal relationships and owning up to your actions.
Release Date: August 28, 2015 | Director and Screenwriter: Paul Weitz | Cast: Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Marcia Gay Harden, Judy Greer, Sam Elliott, Nat Wolff, John Cho | Genre: Comedy | MPAA Rating: R for language and some drug use