“Grandma” a bittersweet dramedy enlivened by Lily Tomlin
Paul Weitz’s dramedy, “Grandma”, is given heart, energy and a reason to exist by Lily Tomlin. She gives her lines levels of warmth, sadness and self-deprecating humor that probably most other actresses probably could not have. Tomlin plays Elle Reid, who has a rich backstory, which comes into play when her granddaughter, Sage, asks her for money so she get an abortion. Elle has no money to give her, because she paid off all her debts, and hilariously cut up her credit cards into wind chimes.
Elle reminds Sage that this decision will haunt her for the rest of her life if she chooses to go through with it. Elle and Sage spend the day asking others for money, including Sage’s boyfriend, a transgender tattoo artist (Laverne Cox), Elle’s ex-husband, Karl, played excellently by Sam Elliott, and finally, Sage’s mother, played very well, yet somewhat cartoonishly, by Marcia Gay Harden. Elle beats up Sage’s immature boyfriend with a hockey stick, making Sage worried that the whole school will know. Elle scoffs because of how ridiculous it would sound.
Elle is a lesbian, and she just broke up with her much younger girlfriend Olivia (Judy Greer). She married Karl before she came to terms with herself as a lesbian. Their scene is written with written in a relaxed yet intelligent manner, revealing their past and their personalities. It is the only scene Sam Elliott is in, yet it shows how he was wounded by her, yet is still in love with her. Sam Elliott’s face and voice are very expressive in this scene, showing how much an actor can accomplish with so little screen time.
Marcia Gay Harden, as Sage’s mother/ Elle’s daughter, is intensely caffeinated, and always on the go. She is the very last person they ask for money, and the reason is apparent right when we see her. She immediately asks her why she didn’t use condoms. We can tell, though, that she cares for Sage, and she is just juggling too many things at once.
It was an interesting choice to have the mother, almost self-consciously, out of the picture, and focus, for the most part, on Tomlin’s rapport with her granddaughter. Even with how cranky Elle appears, she has Sage’s best interest at heart, perhaps in some ways more than Sage’s mother. The film is divided into six chapters, and the final chapter was a bit superfluous. It just seemed to lay things on a little too thick. If the film ended a little before that, it would have been more satisfying.