This review is also up at Channel 24
What it's about
A teenage girl approaches her recently widowed lesbian grandmother to help her pay for an abortion after her deadbeat boyfriend flakes on her but when it's revealed that her grandmother is as broke as she is, the two set out to raise the six hundred dollars that she needs – preferably without ever alerting the girl's emotionally cold, businesswoman mother.
What we thought
Arguably his best film since About a Boy, writer/ director Paul Weitz has crafted a charming, funny little film that seems to have been created with the sole purpose of having the wonderful Lily Tomlin remind us over and over again why it's such a crying shame that she hasn't been in more films over the last decade or two. She gets some unsurprisingly wonderful support by the likes of Marcia Gay Harden, Judy Greer and, the Voice himself, Mr Sam Elliot, not to mention a beautiful turn by beautiful, relative newcomer Julia Garner (she's previously mostly been known for supporting turns in notable works like the Perks of Being a Wallflower and Martha, Macy, May, Marlene) but this is Tomlin's movie all the way.
On paper, her lesbian, right-on, raging feminist character sounds like an infuriating ultra-PC cipher but, along with Weitz's obviously sympathetic writing, Tomlin infuses the character with enough warmth, humanity and humour to ensure that Elle Reid plays like a fully rounded human being. Sure, she's infuriating at times but that's just because she's an infuriatingly flawed person, but she's also loyal, determined and idealistic.
She doesn't just obviously love her granddaughter but also clearly feels things deeply – so deeply, in fact, that her prickly persona is mostly a defence mechanism to stop her from ever getting hurt, which is so perfectly displayed through her relationship with her current girlfriend, Olivia (Judy Greer, great in a largely straight role). She is also, of course, very, very funny and, even if she would probably be a lot of hard work to deal with in real life, she's terrific company for an 80-minute-long movie. This is a master class in both acting and characterization and, even if other parts of the film don't quite work all the time, she is enough to make the film a must-see.
Fortunately, though, even if the film's purposefully structureless script does give the film a meandering, repetitive feel at times, there's plenty to love here beyond Lily Tomlin's artful performance and her brilliantly realised character. The script throughout is sparky and funny, with more than enough emotionally honest moments to balance out the terrifically cutting zingers and fraught relationships, while the direction is understated but effective.
Ultimately, though, it's just a lovely look at the relationship between grandmother and grandchild and even if the grandchild comes close to being overshadowed by the larger-than-life grandmother, there's something quite beautiful about the idea that they both have plenty to learn from one another. Not in a gooey, after-school-special kind of way but with understated grace it shows how no matter how old you are, there's always room to grow as a person, even just through the smallest of steps.
Grandma is too small to ever be considered some sort of timeless classic but it's its very smallness that makes it the charming little gem it is.