Lily Tomlin stars as Elle, an irascible old poet still grieving for her long-term partner, who has just broken up with her newest girlfriend when her granddaughter Sage unexpectedly shows up needing $600 before sundown. Temporarily broke, Grandma Elle and Sage spend the day trying to get their hands on the cash as their unannounced visits to Elle’s old friends and flames end up rattling skeletons and digging up secrets.
Grandma is a small movie by almost any reasonable definition: tiny cast, low budget, brief in both time frame and running time. But it’s so fearless in tackling big issues that it dwarfs much larger films and their self-conscious attempts to impart some worthy message. What’s more, it does so with endless humour and a lightness of touch.
The film wears its politics lightly, essentially saying some people are gay, some have abortions, get over it, and that’s a welcome alternative to the usual handwringing. Its humour comes mainly from the culture clash between Elle’s intellectual strain of hippy-tinged liberalism and her granddaughter’s youthful outlook. But this is not overly concerned with generational conflict except in that both are terrified of Elle’s high-powered adult daughter, Judy (Marcia Gay Harden). Here, growing old doesn’t necessarily mean that one ever feels grown-up.
The result is easily Paul Weitz’ best film since About A Boy, and may be even tighter and smarter than that (though it’s a little less funny). But it’s Tomlin who really makes it sing, snarling in fury but revealing unexpected vulnerability and kindness too. Acerbic, unexpected and quietly heart-warming without ever approaching sappy, this takes a no-nonsense approach to big issues, life, love and ageing, and never feels heavy-handed. We should all be so lucky in our grandmothers.
Venue: William Loveless Hall