Rated: R for language and some drug use. Reviewed by: Jim and Frank Release date: August 21, 2015 Released by: Sony Pictures Classics
A reunion of Lily Tomlin (A Prairie Home Companion, I Heart Huckabees) with director Paul Weitz (Admission) is a pungent dramedy and a welcome return to form for the hard-working actress (prospering in recent years primarily on the small-screen).
Her first starring role (maybe since Big Business!) as Elle Reid is one she clearly nails - a "self-described misanthrope" - an intellectual, upscale City of Angels silver-tongued lesbian inclined to come to aid her pregnant grand-daughter Sage (a pitch-perfect Julia Warner).
In a rather brief running time Weitz commands the material with bitter veracity that touches the same nerves and emotions related in memorable more mainstream fare like In Good Company and About A Boy.
And, while Tomlin manages quite an accomplishment in a uniformly grand Grandma, the casting in addition to Warner is quite a capable ensemble that lets her adorn and spruce what includes is issue-oriented but really more character-driven. Among them are John Cho, the busy Judy Greer (on the small-screen Married), a fine blowzy Marcia Gay Harden, the late Elizabeth Pena and, best of all, a hardened ex in Sam Elliott.
Grandma explores the anger between three women who are not very nice to know.
Lily Tomlin is the grandmother to Julie Garner who arrives at Tomlin's home with a problem and needing money to solve it. Tomlin's cynical Elie is a semi retired college professor and a writer. We are not clearly exposed to what has placed her in the angry emotion she apparently has always lived in. There is some hint that the loss of her longtime lover is the catalyst for her state of mind, but the history in the family between her and daughter Judy (Academy Award winner Marcia Gay Harden) is filled with anger and separation. Grand daughter Sage (Julie Garner) fears her mother and won't go to her for the financial support she needs to deal with an unplanned pregnancy.
The film travels with Elie and Sage as they travel around the Los Angeles area looking for $635 to end Sage's pregnancy. The father is unwilling to help and refuses to take responsibility, that produces one of the most comical situations as "Grandma" uses his golf club to disable him when he appears to threaten the women when they approach him for help. The trip which they take in a 1955 Dodge V8, which breaks down when it is discovered Elie hasn't put oil in the engine when needed.
The two argue and snap at each other as they drive around the city. In one stop they attempt to sell first edition book to Caria, (Elizabeth Pena) at a price well beyond their value, when that fails they are off to visit Kari (Sam Elliot). He is willing to help based on his past relationship with Elie but backs out when he learns the money is to be used to end a pregnancy apparently Elie had that procedure in the past without telling him. That leaves only mom (Harden) as a source of funding to pay for the 5:45 appointment Sage has arranged.
Harden is a hard driving business woman who pushes back at her staff and feels only anger that her daughter didn't protect herself from becoming pregnant. The disfunction comes full circle, all three have and edge and issues with each other. The script has a satisfying use of dialogue, some of it is vulgar, and it reminds us of The Gilmore Girls, but it lacks the heart of the TV sitcom where mother and daughter have overcome the pressures of grandma and grandpa to conform with what is expected of them. Grandma is just the opposite of the uplifting "Gilmore Girls," no one here is happy or even likable. The only character we feel comfortable with is Olivia played sweetly by Judy Greer as a recent lover of Elie.
The film was made last year and released in Europe in 2015. Elizabeth Pena who appears in the film passed on in October of 2015 gives further evidence that the film has been held for at least a full year before the USA release.
The performances are fine, and these angry women find a little accommodation late in the film, but the edge remains for all three and they are not pleasant to observe as is the case in a short story or perhaps in life