Yay for a female-driven, pro-LGBT, pro-choice comedy drama that delivers. “Grandma” is Lily Tomlin’s movie. She is in top form in a role created just for her. Writer director Paul Weitz (“American Pie,” “About a Boy”) confirmed that he had written the part for Tomlin after the two had worked together on 2013’s “Admission.”
On the red carpet at the film’s Tribeca Film Festival premiere last month, Weitz smiled as he referred to Tomlin as “so punk rock” and added that she was great as Tina Fey’s mom in “Admission.”
“She was so hardcore, funny and smart that I wanted to do a whole movie with her as the lead.” said Weitz. Before “Admission,” he hadn’t known Tomlin well, “But her intelligence rang like a clear bell,” he said. “It made me think of a character and how much that character would have to offer a young woman under duress.”
Tomlin’s smile lit up the red carpet — corny-sounding, I know, but it did — and she exuded a natural air of hippitude. As I stood next to her on the carpet, she seemed tickled by the grin plastered on my face. I’ve adored her since “One ringy-dingy” and loved her decades later on FX’s “Damages.”
Tomlin described the way the movie came about. She said Weitz had called her and said, “I want to talk to you about an idea I had.” The two met and talked things over, and he gave her the “Grandma” script to read, and she loved it. “It was a blessed project,” Tomlin said.
Laverne Cox (“Orange is the New Black”), who also stars in the film, was radiant in red and literally took my breath away. She was warm and wonderful and raved about working with Tomlin. “She was so unbelievably delightful and generous and funny,” she shared. Cox’s charisma comes across as humble, grateful and eloquent. I could’ve watched and listened to her talk all night.
Tomlin’s character in “Grandma” is Elle Reid, grandmother to Sage (Julia Garner), who is only 18 and in a pickle. Sage is pregnant. With no money to pay for a $600 abortion, Sage is too afraid to turn to her workaholic mother, Judy (Marcia Gay Harden), so Sage shows up on her grandmother’s doorstep. Misanthrope Grandma is in no mood.
Grandma Elle is still grieving over the death of her partner of 40 years. Elle is bitter and cranky, and she is breaking up with her much-younger girlfriend, Olivia (Judy Greer). After four months together, Elle cuts Olivia loose with a nasty crack that Olivia was nothing but a “footnote.” Elle and Sage head out on a long drive — “Grandma” has been referred to as a gynecological “Nebraska” — in search of everyone they can think of to ask for money toward the abortion.
It’s impossible to imagine anyone but Tomlin in this role. She brings her impeccable humor, along with the captivating ability to make your heart hurt for her.
The indie’s biggest strength is its character-driven story and powerhouse cast. Cox plays a tattoo artist who is Elle’s old pal, Sam Elliott is riveting as Elle’s long-lost and well-off friend, and Nat Wolff is a cad named Cam who caused Julia’s pregnancy (see the hilarious clip below). Casting included up-and-coming actors Mo Aboul-Zelof, Missy Doty (“True Blood”), Kelsey Scott (“12 Years a Slave”).
“Grandma” is scheduled to hit theaters Aug. 21. Comedy drama. Not rated. 79 min.
Watch this clip from “Grandma”
Dorri Olds is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.