Directed by Paul Weitz
I can barely write today, for the pangs of disappointment burden me so. I just saw “Grandma,” Oscar-winning writer/director Paul Weitz’s (“About a Boy”) critically-acclaimed dramedy. For anyone that has seen Lily Tomlin star in “Grace and Frankie,” or anything else she’s been in, you won’t be surprised to discover she nails her role as the wry and outspoken grandmother of a teenage daughter (Julia Garner) seeking $600 to get an abortion. It’s everything besides Tomlin’s performance that makes “Grandma” such a bust.
As once-admired feminist poet Elle Reid (Tomlin) and her granddaughter Sage (Garner) hit up Elle’s old friends all over town for cash, they begin to confront what brought them both to this impasse. Elle recently left a short-term relationship with Olivia (Julie Greer), after her partner Violet passed away a couple years prior. Sage’s sorta-boyfriend Cam (Nat Wolff) is far from the guy her disapproving mother, Judy (Marcia Gay Harden), wants her to be with. And both Elle and Sage have troubled, splintered relationships with Judy as it is.
Even a movie as small as “Grandma” (it’s low-budget and only 79 minutes long) can be a big undertaking when it’s about a topic as delicate as abortion. For Lily Tomlin, any task can look like a cakewalk. She plays what I imagine is a slightly played-up version of herself, with only a few moment where it looks like she had to put in much additional effort. Garner, however, doesn’t seem up to the task. Perhaps the aim was to hire a relatively up-and-coming young actress, but filmmakers probably would have been better off hiring someone with some experience—Chloe Grace Moretz or Dakota Fanning, maybe? When Sam Elliott enters the picture as Karl, Elle’s ex-husband from fifty year ago, “Grandma” finally has a moment where it becomes exactly what I had hoped it would be—moving, emotional, and brilliantly-acted. The story becomes multi-faceted and the characters are forced to confront the issues head-on. After that, though, “Grandma” falters to the lowly state in which we found it. “Grandma” could have been a deft character study and timely feminist manifesto, but its uninspired script and seemingly unmotivated cast just wasn’t up to bluff.