If I’m honest, I’ve never really got Lily Tomlin. From Laugh-In repeats (that telephony girl and a big bundle of weird), to 9-to-5 (um…) to The West Wing (bad example, she was great), the thing she’s brought to American culture was never entirely clear. Comedian, comic actor, fêted oddness… all pretty much inaccessible to old Jack. Cos, you know, why?
I missed her anger and honesty. They were the answer.
Grandma is a cheap (okay…independent) film from the director and writer of About a Boy (Paul Weitz). It is virtually plotless: Grand-daughter Sage turns up needing money for an abortion; Grandma Ellen and Sage (Julia Garner) go searching through Ellen’s life, begging cash from financial or emotional debtors. Success is ultimately irrelevant, as this film is all about pitch perfect character actors throwing out sketches of instantly real people. From coffee shop dictator (John Cho) to tattoo artist buddy (Laverne Cox) and on…delicious moments, all.
Lily Tomlin is grieving for her lost love, taking it out on a more recent love, and tears at everyone she meets along the way. She is briefly contained by Karl (Sam Elliott), but not really. Theirs is a rich, old moment where shaking hands and letting the past die is simply not going to happen. And it won’t resolve what she has lost because it was the sacrifice she made before building a life with that lost love. Layers, eh? No need for more story.
The partnership of Tomlin and Garner is gorgeous. There’s a generational thing going on (mad grandma / shocked youth), a training thing (go bitch-slap the world!) and a quiet show of respect and deep love thing: from old to young. It was this that pulled old Jack into the film for its relatively brief running time. An hour and twenty! My roast was done to perfection!
Oh – and look out for Marcia Gay Harden as Garner’s Mum (Tomlin’s daughter). Textbook case of raising subtleties and laughs from a potential caricature: a monster that scares them all. She has a sweet touch of humanity once you get to know her. Lovely job.
Watch this if you want to see a tour-de-force from Lily Tomlin: now firmly a character actor of skill and depth to old Jack. Watch it for sweet moments between people in their middle years, struggling on despite loss, confusion and regret. Watch it for some cracking laughs and the complexity of real life…
But, be ready, it won’t be easy. Just saying.
Get thee to Netflix, Grandma!