dir-scr Paul Weitz
prd Paul Weitz, Terry Dougas, Paris Kasidokostas Latsis, Andrew Miano
with Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Marcia Gay Harden, Judy Greer, Sam Elliott, Laverne Cox, Elizabeth Pena, Nat Wolff, John Cho, Sarah Burns, Colleen Camp, Kelsey Scott
release US 21.Aug.15, UK 11.Dec.15
15/US Sony 1h19
Brainstorming: Garner and Tomlin

harden greer elliott
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Grandma A sharp script and another beautifully measured performance from Lily Tomlin seamlessly mix comedy and pointed drama to tell an engaging story that isn't afraid to ruffle a few feathers along the way. It may feel both constructed and slight, but between the lines there's plenty of gristle to chew on.

Elle (Tomlin) has just broken up with Olivia (Greer), her girlfriend of three months, for no good reason. Then her granddaughter Sage (Garner) arrives with the news that she's pregnant and needs cash for an abortion. Elle is broke so, after discovering that the free clinic has been turned into a coffee bar, the two of them embark on a fundraising journey around town in Elle's creaky 1955 Dodge Royal. They drop in on the baby's stoner father (Wolff), Elle's old friends (Pena, Cox and Elliott) and eventually Sage's no-nonsense mother Judy (Harden).

No, there isn't much to the plot, and the idea of watching a hot-tempered old woman roam around town with her pregnant granddaughter doesn't sound very promising. But each of their encounters is carefully scripted to reveal more about both Elle and Sage, with added insight into their past relationships. This is a delicate look at the things mothers pass to their daughters without really intending to do so. And while the film is never revolutionary, it's warm and honest in ways movies rarely are.

Outspoken and funny, but haunted by grief after the death of her longtime girlfriend, Tomlin skilfully punches Weitz's witty dialog, including snappy putdowns and knowing observations that cut through society's usual politeness. As she ambles through the film, Tomlin plays each relationship beautifully. She has an easy rapport with the wide-eyed, nervous Garner, reveals layers of insecurity opposite the surprisingly steely Greer, and offers a glimpse into her mothering style in her scenes with the blustering Harden. Meanwhile, each costar creates a vivid character who has a life of his or her own.

While Tomlin is reason enough to see the film, the way it grapples with hot potato issues is also important, as Weitz never takes a simplistic charge at things like abortion, sexuality or grief. He also never over-eggs these things, which makes the film feel almost effortless. But there are powerful currents running through every scene. Sitting back and laughing might be enough for some audience members. But those open to something more resonant should find that too.

cert 15 themes, language 23.Sep.15

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© 2015 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall