Grandma is a bare-bones indie that will likely appeal to those in the artier crowd who like a simple, dialogue-driven movie and the acerbic wit of Lily Tomlin. The veteran actress and comedian plays a lesbian Grandma named Elle Reid whose granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) shows up on her doorstep requesting about $600 to have an abortion that is scheduled for later that day. Elle doesn’t have the cash — but she’s willing to help Sage get it. The two spend the next few hours cruising around town in Grandma’s vintage automobile in search of friends, and others, who may be willing to float them a loan or give them the money outright. Their unannounced visits rattle a few cages and stir up old memories, especially when they drop in on one of Grandma’s old male flames (Sam Elliott). Needless to say, there’s an interesting dynamic at play here – and it results in one of the more surprising moments the film has to offer.
Grandma is more about the personal journeys – and bonding – of Elle, Sage, and Sage’s uptight mother (Marcia Gay Harden) than it is about sexual orientation or abortion. In a Q&A after a recent screening, the director Paul Weitz (who wrote the part specifically with Tomlin in mind, then convinced her to play it) said it was his intent and desire to humanize the people involved in real-life situations, without judgment. He pulls that off, but the film is a bit slow and lackluster in the drama department. And I honestly couldn’t figure out how Elle, a professor of literature, wouldn’t have easier access to $600. We’re not talking thousands here.
Grandma is an okay film, but not a must-see. It’s hitting theaters the same time as another well-cast, but just so-so indie called Learning to Drive (with Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley). It’s a toss-up as to which I’d recommend for anyone seeking a quiet alternate to the plethora of summer spy, action, or so-called comedy movies. In both cases, the trailers give away most of the story and one-liners (as way too many trailers do these days), so it really just depends on which characters and plot lines draw you in. If at all.
Learning to Drive trailer: