In a holiday movie season dominated by powerful young female characters like The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen and Daisy Ridley’s lightsaber-wielding badass in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it’s somewhat ironic that a heroic female character has emerged in the form of a 70-year-old lesbian grandma from Silver Lake. But that’s exactly what happens in writer-director Paul Weitz’s micro-budgeted, Sundance favorite Grandma. The grannie in question (a spectacular Lily Tomlin) spends the bulk of her time onscreen raising money for an abortion for her granddaughter.
Yes, you read that right, Grandma is a female-driven, intergenerational, “buddy comedy” about abortion. Not exactly something you see every day (especially on an airplane), but well worth checking out. For not only is Grandma one of the freshest, funniest indie comedies you’ll see all year, its broader message about tolerance and understanding in the face of personal adversity has never been more timely. Particularly in today’s polarizing political climate where the mere mention of hot-button topics like abortion or Planned Parenthood is enough to incite fiery tirades on your Facebook page (or worse).
Actually, the fact that a movie like Grandma was even made, much less distributed, at all in today’s Hollywood is testament to the unique talents of all involved. And though the film bears little resemblance to the cutesy, feel-good indie comedy promoted in Grandma’s cloying trailer – which doesn’t even mention the dreaded “A-word” once! – hardcore Weitz fans will delight in the Oscar-nominated writer-director’s return to form after making his mark with such killer indie comedies as About a Boy and In Good Company. Like those films, Grandma is a tart, often-bruising comedic exploration of love, loss and the deeply flawed family ties that bind, with a heaping dose of timely sociopolitical humor thrown in for good measure.
Set in one crazy day in the life of aging Boho poet Elle (Tomlin) and her 18-year-old granddaughter, Sage (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, TV’s The Americans) which finds the pair hitting up friends old and new for the $630 it takes to pay for Sage’s abortion, Grandma does get a bit episodic in spots, but viewers who stick with the duo till the end will find that the cumulative effect of Elle and Sage’s oddball journey packs a real emotional punch. Particularly in the film’s last few scenes where Tomlin’s cantankerous crank veneer is stripped away to reveal the sad, soulful woman underneath all that bluster.
Few living performers, male or female, could tackle the extremes in Elle’s character – mean and annoying as hell one minute, funny as hell the next – with the wit and charm that Tomlin exhibits here. There isn’t a false note in Tomlin’s performance and whether you agree with the film’s proud, defiantly pro-choice stance on the issues at hand or not, no one can argue that Tomlin more than lives up to the avalanche of award season kudos being heaped upon her this year. Seriously, just give the woman an Oscar already.
Also featuring sensational supporting turns from Judy Greer (Jurassic World, The Descendants), Sam Elliot (Tombstone), Marcia Gay Harden (Pollock, Into the Wild), Orange is the New Black’s Laverne Cox and the late, great Elizabeth Peña in her final film role, Grandma might not always be lovable or perfect. But, at the end of the day, whose grandma really is?
Grandma is currently playing on select Cathay Pacific flights worldwide.