Lily Tomlin is not your typical comedic actress and so it follows that she has tended not to play your typical characters in the films she starred in. The trend continues here. The 76-year-old does not play the expected warm and supportive grandmother you might be picturing from the title of director/screenwriter Paul Weitz’s (Little Fockers, About a Boy) latest film. Tomlin’s Elle is not a tea serving and hand patting old doddering white haired lady. She is a lady who is very rough around the edges and who calls things as she sees them no matter how cruel. Tomlin has not made a good film for a long time. This one is up to the level of her talent.
One year and a bit after having lost her partner of nearly four decades, Elle Reid (Lily Tomlin – I Heart Huckabees, Short Cuts) is still adjusting to her new life. That adjustment includes breaking up rather suddenly and cruelly with her much younger girlfriend, Olivia (Judy Greer – Ant-Man, Jurassic World), and that is just the beginning of a quite eventful day.
Just after finishing her shower and sitting down on her back deck Elle’s young granddaughter, Sage (Julia Garner – The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For), drops in unexpectedly. It ends up it is not just a visit rather there is a rather serious purpose for Sage’s coming to see her grandmother. She is pregnant and needs around $600 for an abortion. Elle would give you granddaughter the money if she had it. The presently unemployed poet has recently paid off all her bills and cut up her credit cards leaving Elle cash poor. She only has $43 to her name.
Not deterred Elle bundles her granddaughter into her old car and they drive off in search of the missing funds. The road trip includes visits to the father of the child, Cam (Nat Wolff – Paper Towns, The Fault in Our Stars), Elle’s ex-husband (Sam Elliott – Up in the Air, Tombstone), the owner (Elizabeth Pena – Transamerica, Rush Hour)of the café where Olivia works, a transgender tattoo artist (Laverne Cox – from television’s Orange is the New Black), and finally Elle’s daughter/Sage’s mother, Judy (Marcia Gay Harden – Mystic River, Fifty Shades of Grey).
All this in a couple of hours as Sage has a 5:45 appointment at the clinic. During this desperate and oftentimes chaotic search for the money Sage and Elle learn much about each other. Skeletons come out of the closet and long guarded secrets emerge.
Lily Tomlin absolutely shines in this role as a foul mouthed, blunt older gay woman who embarks on a trip lasting a couple of hours that in many ways repairs her relationship with her daughter and granddaughter. Her great performance reminded me who much better the film world is with her in it. The film rests on her shoulders and succeeds largely because of her. Despite all the rough edges and foul mouth Tomlin’s Elle has layers which involve vulnerability and plenty of humanity.
Some might have a problem with the whole abortion issue involved in the film. It really is not a film that advocates abortion, though it does side with choice and a woman’s right to control what is going on with her own body. This might be offensive to some though it is not a film that beats the drums.
A fun and oftentimes poignant independent film. The journey that the two generations of a family embark upon shows that no matter your age there is always hope and a chance to take a path you might not have considered.
-Commentary with Lily Tomlin, Sam Elliott, Julia Garner and Director Paul Weitz
-A Family Portrait: Making Grandma
-Q&A with Lily Tomlin, Sam Elliott and Director Paul Weitz
-Previews of Infinitely Polar Bear, Irrational Man, Diary of a Teenage Girl, Truth, The Lady in the Van, Hello My Name is Doris