Lily Tomlin has never been better and her acerbic performance alone is worth going to see Grandma. Tomlin plays Elle Reid, the grandma in question. Having just broken up with the much younger Olivia (Judy Greer), Elle is not in great emotional shape when her granddaughter, Sage (Julia Garner) shows up at her door asking her for $600 so she can have an abortion. Elle doesn’t have the money, but, for reasons that will become clear, she’s determined to help Sage find it, whether by selling rare books or visiting old friends. Along the way (which feels like a road trip film), we watch one great scene after another as we uncover pieces of Elle’s past and catch a glimpse of what’s troubling her in the present.
One of the longer (and my favourite) scenes of the film involves Karl, an old flame. Karl is played by Sam Elliott. I can’t remember Elliott giving a better performance and this scene is haunting, featuring dialogue that is spot-on.
But ultimately Grandma is about the relationship between three generations of women: Sage, her mother Judy (Marcia Gay Harden) and Judy’s mother, Elle. This relationship is handled with wit and seriousness in equal measure (did I mention that Grandma was a comedy drama?), because Grandma is an edgy indie film and not a chick-flick (though I watched it in a theatre full of women). And Garner and Harden are almost as good as Tomlin. Grandma also has an equal measure of heart and intelligence. I found it surprising that this film about women was written by a man (Paul Weitz, who also directed).
Not every scene In Grandma worked for me and in some ways the story is too simplistic and maybe also too short, but Grandma gets a solid ***+. My mug is up.