Director: Paul Weitz
Depth of Field/1821 Pictures
The idea of “a comedy about abortion” would have most worried that, on paper, it was some misogynistic gross-out slapstick nonsense, but hold on, Grandma, isn’t just a comedy – it’s a tragicomic drama, or dramedy if you prefer (I don’t) and it is, on one hand at least, about abortion. It’s about more than that though – and a huge joy that comes from it, is within it, is the power of a well-made, small-budget film based around those old-fashioned tools: a great cast, a smart script, a director with vision, wit and an aim to tell the tale as best he can.
That’s the success of Grandma.
Well there are many, actually.
We welcome Lily Tomlin back to the land of lead roles, her first in a film in nearly 30 years. The great comedienne and character actress is also an aging feminist icon. Making her perfect to play: an aging feminist icon. Her “Grandma” is an unemployed poet/academic who has no debt but has chopped up her credit cards. So on the day when her granddaughter visits to tell her she needs to borrow $630 for an abortion the pair head off on a round-town roadtrip to raise the cash. They’re both scared of Marcia Gay Harden’s Judy (daughter of Tomlin’s Elle, mother to Julia Garner’s Sage) – a businesswoman-in-overdrive.
So Elle takes Sage to meet a colourful cast of friends, exes and family – as they chase down the money.
We get a lot of action and exposition delivered quickly. And we get a powerhouse performance from Tomlin, subtle and assured though. She gets to play a role that seems very close to who she is (she wore her own wardrobe, drove her own car) and those sharp one-liners just roll out as the journey rolls on.
Sage worries she’ll be thought a slut. Her Grandma tells her to never use that word again. The movie doesn’t dumb anything down, is empowering and empathic, is progressive and leans away from anything resembling a stereotype or cliché.
And it really is funny. Very funny. Director Paul Weitz has had all manner of hits – from American Pie to About A Boy, often working with his brother. On his own he’s created American Dreamz and In Good Company and it was on his previous film to this, the low-key Admission that he met and cast Tomlin and that made Grandma, an idea he had knocking around in some shape for many year, a reality. It’s our great fortune these two met and then worked together a second time. Grandma is a film that is thoughtful, intelligent and it not only gets its point across and gets it characters, it subtly implies that it knows – so fully – the relationships between the characters, the off-screen/method-actor motivations. Grandma doesn’t pander. Instead it just delivers. A great film.