I don’t think that Lily Tomlin has ever played a character like Elle Reid. Without having followed her whole career, I can bet that Tomlin has never been as good that she is in Grandma. Elle is an author of feminist poetry who has lost her inspiration two years ago when Violet, her partner of 40 years, died. The story starts as Elle breaks up with her current girlfriend, Olivia (Judy Greer). At that moment Elle’s granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) comes to seek help from her Grandma. Sage is pregnant and wants an abortion. They have only a few dollars between them and so they take off in Elle’s old Dodge Royal, that needs rebooting once in a while, to find the rest of the money before the appointment later on that day. They make an odd pair. Blond, with curly hair, 18-year-old Sage is a sweet angel, and a rugged, foul-mouthed, acid-tongued septuagenarian lesbian who would probably throw the first punch in a bar brawl. Garner and Tomlin work very well together, but the film’s best scene is with veteran actor Sam Elliott as Karl, Elle’s ex-husband. He still sees the young woman he fell in love with forty years ago and it is clear that he is still in love with her. But Elle is there to ask him for money and she won’t tell Karl what it’s for. It’s a moment of intense emotions and hurt and it couldn’t have been done better. Elliott usually plays tough guys in second-rate TV cop or cowboy shows and in movies, so it is a surprise to see him in Grandma giving the full measure of his talent. Later on we meet Elle’s estranged daughter and Sage’s mother, Judy (Marcia Gay Harden). Workaholic Judy is such a control freak monster that her mother and daughter are afraid of her. On the surface Judy seems cold, controlling and Gay Harden tampers that by playing her as true and genuine as possible, not as a caricature. At the end Elle and Judy have come to finally understand each others. In all road movies what the characters discover about themselves are often more important than what they are trying to find. And Grandma is also very funny. I should mention actress Elizabeth Peña in her last film. She passed away a year ago. With Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Sam Elliott and Marcia Gay Harden this film is sure to entertain.
Marcia Gay Harden