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Grandma - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: B
Acting: B
Writing: B
Cinematography: B
Editing: B+

Well, Grandma won't take up too much of your time: it's all of 79 minutes long. That usually doesn't bode well for the quality of a film, but given the simplicity of the concept, here it works.

The Grandma of the title is played by Lily Tomlin, as widow Elle -- a lesbian widow, by the way. Her wife passed away from a terminal illness a year and a half ago. This alone might not make the movie at all exceptional in its own right, except for its multifaceted presentation of Elle's longstanding feminism. This is a movie with a lesbian in the lead role that's not a "gay movie," and even though the whole premise is in regards to her granddaughter needing an abortion, neither is it any kind of "issue movie" when it comes to that. Writer-director Paul Weitz presents these things as incidental in a real-world way that feels long overdue. A lot of the dialogue is a little stilted and overused but whatever, you can't have everything.

The granddaughter in question is teen-aged Sage (a serviceable Julia Garner). Grandma opens with Elle breaking up with her notably younger girlfriend of four months (Judy Greer, actually the best performer here), but we soon meet Sage when she comes to Grandma's house while Grandma is moping about. She needs $600 for an abortion procedure she's scheduled for early that evening.

The movie maybe tries a little hard to make Elle eccentric. Part of the reason Grandma can't immediately help Sage out is because she cut up all her credit cards and made a wind chime out of them. She also has $43 because she recently paid off all her debts. A lot of them were her wife's hospital bills. So, we spend the bulk of the movie following Elle and Sage around as they visit different people in different attempts to borrow or get back borrowed money.

This does make for a nice mini-parade of other lovely actors in small parts. Marcia Gay Harden as Elle's daughter and Sage's mother. Laverne Cox, the transgender person actually playing a transgender character (now there's something rare), the old tattoo artist friend who owes money but is still broke. Sam Elliott as the ex-husband from four decades ago. Even John Cho as a barista. All of these people get to bear the brunt of Elle's varying eccentricities, as Sage is either flattered or embarrassed by her antics and efforts.

Some of the time, particularly in the beginning, the acting feels a little off. Like Lily Tomlin and Julia Garner weren't quite given enough takes to hit their stride. It leaves Grandma feeling slightly underdone. But Tomlin, even at the age of 76, has an undeniable charisma (best line: "I love being old. Young people are stupid."), and ultimately transcends these minor distractions. She doesn't always stick the landing in her delivery, but her curmudgeonly Lily Tomlin-ness still wins the day.

And, in spite of the often uninspired dialogue, the script treats the issues at hand with nuance in a broader sense. The closest thing to moralizing about abortion, on either side, that it gets is the two protesters Elle and Sage encounter when they finally reach the clinic. But they make it inside, and the abortion itself is never the issue to the story -- it's the relationship between these three women, all of whom either have or are making their own decisions independent of any significant male presence. Sage, in fact, was conceived via sperm donor. Elle's daughter came from a forgotten one night stand. Grandma almost pointedly downplays the importance of men, but without making a show of it.

Grandma is hardly perfect, but the world would still be much improved by more movies like it.

Julia Garner and Lily Tomlin are an abortive mission in GRANDMA.

Overall: B
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