By Maisie De-Pulford
Elle Reid, played by the fiercely magnificent Lily Tomlin, is somewhat of an unruly academic and feminist poet. Majorly misanthropic and in mourning for her recently deceased partner Vi, Elle is struggling with life and struggling to write. When her young granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) turns up at her door one morning pregnant and in need of $630 dollars for an abortion booked for that very afternoon, Elle drops everything. Having cut up her credit cards to make a wind chime, and neither one willing to provoke the backlash of their daughter/mother Judy (Marcia Gay Harden), the only logical thing for the pair to do is jump in the car and hunt down any likely ally Elle can think of – no matter how deep into her past she must go.Paul Weitz’s Grandma is only 78 minutes long but it doesn’t waist a precious second. Fully F-Rated and Bechdel bossing, this little film packs a punch to both the heart and the head.
What follows is the most unlikely of road trips packed to the brim with familiar faces such as Judy Greer as Elle’s girlfriend, Orange is the New Black’s Laverne Cox, and Sam Elliot. Hopping from one hopeful source of cash to the more desperate, the race to raise Sage’s fee is often explicit, frequently hilarious, and on occasion delightfully violent.
It is a feisty and heart warming comedy that puts female relationships and female choice at its centre. Free of any veiling ambiguities, Weitz presents the issue of abortion straight up. Leaving what can often be a difficult and taboo subject out in the open and firmly in female hands. There is no real deliberation whether Sage might keep the baby or not, abortion is the right option for her at this moment in her life and apart from a momentary despair that she might go to hell there is no pressure for her to consider otherwise. The women’s clinic they visit is a safe and professional space, and the fervent mother-daughter protest outside is scary and ridiculous in its shadow. This is by no means a serious or questioning exploration of the deed, and for some this may be lacking, but it is a light hearted, intelligent, and frank portrayal that doesn’t feel the need to prove anything in its stance – a mighty and refreshing achievement in itself.
And the same goes for the matter of sexuality. In fact the film is so excellent in this department that I am tempted to not mention it at all in fear of unpicking the subconscious powers of Weitz’s script. But the scene between Elle and her abandoned ex-husband Karl (Sam Elliot) cannot go by unnoticed. After a series of comic encounters this meeting is moving and difficult in its emotional intensity. What transpires is the pain and confusion of leaving someone behind in order to become who you are, and the courage it takes to choose for your own body. Elle is a lesbian, but as she tells Sage, she had to learn to like herself before she could get there.
All of this is made effortlessly entertaining by Tomlin’s presence onscreen. Weitz had been sitting on the idea of Grandma for years until he met Lily and finally found the fit he had been looking for. Yet Tomlin not only ‘fits’ into this role, she truly becomes the movie itself. Commanding every scene and dialogue, she is the backbone and soul of the show. You could quite honestly sit back and watch her potter, swear, and expound kick-ass wisdom all day long, let alone the mere 78 minutes we are given.
Whilst some might see the pro-choice aspect of this story as its major tenet, in many ways its serves as only the premise for what is really a journey of female growth, friendship and family. Ultimately this is a film about three generations of women choosing for themselves, figuring out how to be there for each other, and learning to say ‘screw you’ and ‘I love you’ all in one day. In the most joyous fashion Grandma manages to pull off the brilliantly brash and subtly poignant in one fell swoop. Guaranteed to make you laugh out loud and keep you thinking long after the credits, you seriously wont regret shelling out the ticket price for this one. More like this please Mr Weitz