Comedy legend Lily Tomlin (Netflix’s Grace and Frankie) shines in this spirited and touching film from director Paul Weitz (About a Boy), a sharply observed comedy-drama about intergenerational relationships and how our past is never really left behind.
Tomlin stars as aging poet and quick-witted grump Elle, who as the film opens has just ended her relationship with a much younger woman (Judy Greer, The Descendants). Still mourning the death of her long-time partner, Elle is also struggling to make ends meet as interest in her poetry diminishes and academic jobs are few and far between. In the midst of her own troubles, Elle receives a surprise visit from her teenage granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner, Martha Marcy May Marlene), who is pregnant and in dire need of cash for her doctor’s appointment later that same day. Elle is unable to loan Sage the money, and both are unwilling to ask Sage’s uptight and out-of-touch mother (Marcia Gay Harden, Magic in the Moonlight, Elsa & Fred), so the pair set out in Elle’s vintage (i.e., ancient) car to try and cobble together the cash from Elle’s old friends and old flames (one of whom is played by the always wonderful Sam Elliott, who also stars in this year’s I’ll See You in My Dreams). As this odd couple faces a number of obstacles in the course of their journey and Sage begins to learn about her grandmother’s complex past, the two women are able to achieve a new honesty in their relationship, and begin to chart a way forward together.
It’s no surprise that Tomlin is ideal as Elle, both due to her masterful comic timing and her ability to reveal depths of vulnerability and emotion beneath a brittle exterior. Mixing laughter and tears to marvellous effect, Grandma addresses such subjects as loss, love and motherhood with both wry humour and refreshing honesty.