“Minimalist abortion adventure.”
Yes folks, you heard me correctly, those are the three words to describe the plot of “Grandma” and while some of you are immediately turned off by the thought of that as a film, here’s why you shouldn’t be: Lily Tomlin. Over the years, Tomlin has enchanted audiences with her roles in such films as “9 to 5,” “All of Me” and “Nashville,” while also providing the voice of many a child’s childhood as Ms. Frizzle on “The Magic School Bus.” Recently, Tomlin has slowed down a bit, taking roles in films like “I Heart Huckabees” (in which she was involved with many screaming matches with notorious director David O. Russell) and “Admission,” with a recent comeback in the wonderful Netflix original series “Grace and Frankie” with co-star Jane Fonda. Here, Tomlin returns to a starring role in a film taking the indie circuit by storm, this veteran actress is exactly why you should give this “minimalist abortion adventure” a chance.
Let me clarify the plot before I do anything else. “Grandma” follows Elle Reid (Tomlin), an aging, yet still quirky senior rocked by the recent death of her longtime partner of 38 years and the tumultuous path her current relationship is walking on. After dumping her girlfriend, Olivia (Judy Greer), she is visited shortly after by her granddaughter, Sage (Julia Garner) who reveals to her that she’s pregnant and needs $630 for an abortion. Seeing that it’s her granddaughter’s choice, out of love, she agrees to help her by scouring the city to find ways to make quick bash before her 5:45 p.m. appointment. She runs into characters (in the truest sense of the word) played by Laverne Cox, John Cho, Nat Wolff, Marcia Gay Harden, Sam Elliott and the late, great Elizabeth Peña.
Tomlin, in a word, glorious. If there ever was a role that squeezed what makes her an amazing actress into an 80 minute film, this is the role. Elle is fierce, voracious, clever, funny and sometimes intimidating, all out of love to help her granddaughter, which shows in each scene. While Tomlin does steal the show, Garner as Sage is also a force to be reckoned with, especially given that Garner hasn’t been given a due chance to shine in a film yet, mirroring Tomlin’s veteran status. Garner has been in a few films of note (“Sin City: A Dame to Kill For,” “The Last Exorcism: Part II”), none of which have ever been good enough to give her a chance to flex her acting chops, which she does wonderfully here. Harden is also unsurprisingly wonderful and layered as Sage’s uptight mother and Elle’s daughter, who is unaware of her daughter’s pregnancy, as well as Cox as the sharp-tongued old friend of Elle who owes her money.
Despite being a short film, 80 minutes with credits, “Grandma,” is an incredibly layered film, focusing on building the characters throughout the time we’re given with them, in which the straightforward plot helps with doing. Director Paul Weitz finds a way to unearth both Elle and Sage’s different personality quirks with each passing character they come across, flexing each side to them that only a good director and screenwriter could bring out. The film is minimalist in look, which helps in its wonderful simplicity that the film revels and succeeds in, making it more charming than any studio produced film could ever take.
Sharp as a knife and as tender as filet mignon, “Grandma” is a fabulously simple movie details a grandmother’s love and the things she will do to keep her happy in her life, despite her choices (the complete opposite of what “The Visit” is doing). Tomlin makes her case as one of the most talented actresses of her generation in her role and plays wonderfully with newcomer Garner, as well as the impressive ensemble cast involved. Weitz has really committed a back-to-basics career move here, as so many directors of late have done to regain the creative control that put them on the map in the first place and “Grandma” doesn’t just place him, as well as Tomlin back on the map, “Grandma” is the destination.
Directed by: Paul Weitz
Starring: Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Marcia Gay Harden, Judy Greer, Laverne Cox and Sam Elliott.
Runtime: 80 minutes
Rating: R for language and some drug use.
Playing exclusively at Regal Park Terrace.
A Sony Pictures Classics release, an 1821 Media and Depth of Field production, a Paul Weitz film, “Grandma”