Joe Reid reporting from the Tribeca Film Festival
After months of feeling left out for not being at Sundance when this little gem debuted (Nathaniel reviewed it), I was at long last able to see Paul Weitz's Grandma, featuring as charming and exciting a central performance by Lily Tomlin as you've heard. Tomlin plays Elle Reid (no relation...though that's not what I'll be telling people), a thorny old lesbian who at times she describes herself both as a misanthrope and as a "terrible person," yet the good heart at her center never gets covered up all that effectively. She's just dumped her lover (Judy Greer) when she's visited by her teen granddaughter, Sage (Julia Garner), who needs money for an abortion. Elle doesn't have it, but she thinks she knows where she can get it, and pretty soon, we've got an old-fashioned road trip on our hands!
Road-trip movies have a natural episodic structure to them, and Grandma keeps some fun casting decisions around each corner. Here's Laverne Cox! Here's Sam Elliott! Here's Elizabeth Peña! (I let out a whimpered "aw" when the late Peña showed up; I found out after the film screened that a friend of mine did the same thing when she saw it.) Here's Marcia Gay Harden! The casting decisions are all quite sharp, which keeps it from feeling like a parade of familiar faces designed to cozy up to an indie audience. In particular, Elliott does some impressive work in his one scene. If Tomlin ends up folded into awards talk for her performance (she should), expect more than a few for-your-consideration pleas on Elliott's behalf.
While Grandma becomes as much of an abortion comedy as Obvious Child was, the focus never leaves Tomlin's Elle. It seems for a while that the movie is going to be a succession of dupes for Elle to mow down. Certainly that's how thing's go for Sage's boyfriend (Nat Wolff, making his requite festival rounds this year). But the film proves to be unexpectedly generous to most of its other characters, including an energetic third-act stomping-through by Marcia Gay Harden, who gets my vote for the movie's funniest line (it's about condoms).