Lily Tomlin is a hoot in this utterly refreshing, non-conformist comedy
‘I like being old, young people are stupid,’ so says Elle Reed (Lily Tomlin), poet, trash-talker, non-conformist and a pitbull-like protector to her up-the-duff granddaughter, who’s trying to raise funds for an abortion. The pair take a road trip about the vicinity, with Elle calling in favours and racking up altercations on a journey that dredges up her past – including feuds with her unceremoniously dumped younger lover, her embittered ex-husband and her high-flying daughter – and that incorporates a rest stop for a very telling tattoo.
With Grandma, writer-director Paul Weitz (American Pie, About a Boy) gets his groove back after the desperately disappointing Admission, swapping commercial comedy for a salty but sensitively shot indie gem which, in its grandmother-granddaughter leads, feels like the film the disappointing Tammy should have been. Tomlin is a hoot as Elle, a woman who’s described as a ‘terrible girlfriend’ and an ‘awful mother’ but who‘s given another crack at getting a relationship right as she attempts to do good by her grandchild in her own inimitable way, with the film genuinely hopeful that she might succeed. Elle is always ready with a quip and primed to kick-off, which makes a nice contrast to young Sage (Julia Garner), her sweet, frequently startled foil.
Dividing his film neatly into four chapters, Weitz keeps things largely upbeat and trim in the face of considerable messiness and friction. It’s cast to perfection with Marcia Gay Harden, Judy Greer, Laverne Cox and the great Sam Elliott joining the throng, while the writing is sassy and terrific; after a dust-up outside an abortion clinic, Elle takes the resulting punch in her stride, commenting nonchalantly, ‘I got slugged by the bad seed.’ Utterly refreshing and even a little heartwarming, this story of a crabby old lady has vitality and swagger to spare.
General release from Fri 11 Dec.