Monday, May 30, 2016

Grandma (2015) ***

Don't be thrown off by the title of this movie or by its twee-sounding Netflix description. “Grandma” is actually pretty decent.

Lily Tomlin plays Elle, once a famous poet, now sort of coasting. On the day that Elle breaks up with her latest girlfriend (Judy Greer), Elle's granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) shows up needing quick cash for an abortion. Elle doesn't have the cash, so the two start hitting up old friends and lovers, and Sage winds up learning a lot about her grandma.

That may not sound like much fun, but trust me that the excellent cast makes this little, film-festival-type movie work. Julia Garner, the curly-haired blond who plays Kimberly on “The Americans,” has a real career ahead of her. Judy Greer shows once again that she is one of the best character-actors working today. Sam Elliot is excellent as Elle's ex-husband. Lily Tomlin is wonderful, playing Elle with the perfect amount of frankness and occasional ferocity. Her strange-looking face is impossible to look away from, and at the age of 76, she still moves like a 20-year-old.

One thing that limits this film's audience is its very distinct cultural viewpoint. This is a movie about a lesbian helping her granddaughter get an abortion. People who are passionately opposed to anything in that sentence will probably want to give “Grandma” a skip.

“Grandma” is fair to all its characters, exposing each person's flaws, but giving each one's story a fair shake. The movie is really about Elle, though. Widowed by the death of her longtime lover, Violet, Elle is facing the fact that she is growing old alone. She has her moments of bitterness, but mostly she faces this with grace and stoicism. Elle is not defined by any of the labels that could be applied to her: not just a “writer,” not just a “lesbian,” and definitely not just a “grandma.”

3 stars out of 5

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