Grandma/4 Palm Trees
By Eduardo Victoriafirstname.lastname@example.org
Grandma gets straight to the point. Armed with a fast pace and brief runtime, there’s nary a wasted moment, but instead a frank simplicity that hooks us from the very start up until the bittersweet end. Impressively directed and written by Paul Weitz, his latest film is an unabashed celebration of women, their beautiful diversity, struggles and bonds that only they can share with one another.
It’s also an undeniable showcase for star Lily Tomlin, who delivers by a large margin one of the best performances of the year as a no-nonsense grandmother confronting her demons in order to help her grandchild. Endlessly funny from minute-to-minute and with a massive heart, Grandma is one of this year’s absolute musts, brimming with vitality and a keen reflection of the women who shape the world for the better.
The story begins with Sage (Julia Garner), who visits her grandmother Elle (Lily Tomlin) with a predicament. Sage is pregnant, but afraid to tell her mother and needs over $600 for an abortion before the end of the day. Elle can’t find it in her heart to deny her granddaughter, but has also just cut all of her credit cards to shreds, so the two set out to scrounge up the funds any way they can. With only hours before an appointment, the two revisit a host of characters from Elle’s past; from old friends to ex-lovers and the like, Elle’s past will help to secure Sage’s future.
With such a simple but elegant premise, Weitz’s film is a breathtaking character study of one incredible woman, the choices that have defined her and how she holds up in light of a challenge. Told in chapter format, each encounter slowly reveals more about Elle and is straightforward but refreshingly honest, clear and precise.
Most notable is how Weitz takes potentially grim subject matter and executes it in a way that fully understands the breadth of its importance with a hopeful and positive viewpoint. In addition, much of the film’s strongest elements are understated, from Elle’s sexual preference to the inevitable abortion, making both status quo and in turn respecting his characters’ decisions in a way not really shown on screen before. Ultimately, the film never feels didactic when it easily could’ve been, instead amounting to a powerful examination of choice, consequence and female bonds.
It goes without saying that Lily Tomlin utterly owns this film as the whip smart, fast talking Elle. There’s a very stoic nature to Tomlin, with her character baring the weight of so much responsibility, yet consciously choosing to carry the load for the sake of others. Selfless yet flawed, Tomlin is utterly disarming and empowering at the same time.
I could watch her do anything and this role seemingly made for her. Julia Garner as Elle’s granddaughter Sage, Judy Greer as Oliva, Elle’s estranged lover and Marcia Gay Harden as Judy, Sage’s mother all get a chance to shine in their respective roles, but by design, none of them reach the heights of Tomlin’s firecracker of a character. It’d also be remiss of me if I didn’t mention how the cast is made up of exclusively women, it’s just another way the film excels, bringing to light incredible women who are all so different but fully formed.
Grandma is the unabashed feminist film that is sorely needed right now. Stunning and revelatory in its narrative economy, Weitz’s film cuts straight through the noise with urgency and powerful emotion. Intimate yet lively, this is a film that just needs to be seen, and another step in the right direction concerning the way women are celebrated on film with the complexity and honesty they deserve.
Playing at Century Downtown10 rated “R”