Monday, September 7, 2015

Lily Tomlin as GRANDMA

She's wonderful in it. Lily Tomlin should prepare to get award nominations for her performance.  As a big screen movie in which all the action takes place in one day, there's not a whole lot going on.  It's a multi-generational story populated mostly by women, like Steel Magnolias which had more drama going on than GRANDMA does.  But with Lily Tomlin at the wheel in this indie drama, you're in for quite an unusual ride.
Grandma runs only about 1 hour and 20 minutes.  It's like one of the best of those ABC Movies of the Week.  Remember those made-for-TV movies back in the 1970?  For a story that focuses on a grandmother whose candor and independence make her a heavy piece of furniture to deal with,  Grandma doesn't have that little something extra to make it a memorable classic -- like Terms of Endearment starring Shirley MacLaine as the persnickety yet devoted mother and grandmother Aurora Greenway. But Lily Tomlin delivers a terrific performance and that makes it worthwhile to spend some time with Grandma.  This is the kind of crusty female character role that automatically has gone to Shirley MacLaine since her Oscar-winning turn in 1983's Terms of Endearment.  Think of 1989's Steel Magnolias to 1994's Guarding Tess to 2011's Bernie.  Tomlin got Grandma and it fits her like a glove.  The comedian/actress is now married to her very longtime partner in love and writing, Jane Wagner.  Grandma marks the first time that Lily Tomlin has played an openly lesbian character.  On her current sitcom, Grace and Frankie, she plays a straight woman whose husband wants a divorce because he's come out and is in love with another man -- his longtime law office partner.
Grandma is a road movie and road movies are about discoveries along the way -- self discoveries and discoveries about one's traveling partner.  Tomlin plays Elle, a feminist poet who has a cult following and lives in Southern California.  The film opens and she's breaking up with her younger girlfriend, Olivia (played by Judy Greer).  You get the feeling Elle's not totally honest for the reason they're breaking up.  Olivia seems truly to be in love with Elle and Elle seems to be pushing her away for some reason.  The poet had a longtime partner who died.  They'd raised a daughter together.  Elle's daisy-like granddaughter comes over early in the morning with a problem.  A major problem.  She got pregnant by her loser boyfriend and she needs $600.  Sage, the granddaughter, booked an appointment at an abortion clinic for late that afternoon.

Why didn't Sage go to her mother?  Well, mother and daughter aren't speaking.  Mother and grandmother aren't speaking.  But all three will have speak to each other later that day.  Elle has just broken off a romantic relationship, she's broke financially and she doesn't have a credit card.  Two out of those three are my life right now.  And I wish I was in a romantic relationship.

Elle tells Sage to get in the car.  Grandma drives and they visit people Elle thinks may be able to help her out with cash.  Sage will learn a helluva lot more about her grandmother.  She will see her as a woman who had a life before she became a grandparent.  Elle did not get quiet simply because she's over retirement age.  She's still vital and forceful and relevant.                                                              
The scene in the coffee shop with the anal retentive clerk (played by John Cho) is a perfect example.  I wrote on Twitter months ago that I wished Gloria Steinem would burst onto the scene in an episode of ABC's The Bachelor and hand each bachelorette a copy of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique.  Elle can't get over the fact that her granddaughter has never even heard of the book.
The last person visited for cash is Sage's mother.  Played by Marcia Gay Harden, she's a caustic executive whom you just know has robbed her poor assistant of the will to live.  We immediately see why Elle and Sage don't talk to her.  Sage's mother is a multi-tasking nightmare.                              
Before that, Elle visit Karl.  He's played by Sam Elliott and this is one of the juiciest roles Elliott's had in a long time.  The visit to Karl's deluxe house is the electric charge of the movie.  Elliott is now in his silver-haired cool senior daddy years.  And there's that deep sexy voice of his.  He's perfect to play this smooth survivor of the 1960s.
                                                                                                           
That's all I going to write.  I want you to experience what happens in that section for yourself.  The movie is presented in chapters.  That's fitting because Elle is an author.

Grandma opens with two women wanted to end something.  Elle is ending the relationship with Olivia.  Sage wants to end her pregnancy.  Through their journey, something will be lost and something will be gained.  There were times when I felt I was Tomlin's character and times when I felt I knew her character personally.  I felt like Elle was women I've known.  Through the movie, you see that her heart is still so full of the partner who passed away.  And maybe that's why she wanted Olivia to leave.

Some of us may feel like we've grown up watching Lily Tomlin.  She was hit when she joined the cast of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In on NBC in the early 70s.  That comedy show was a huge hit -- funny, goofy, edgy, hip, satirical and topical.  Tomlin created characters that she did on NBC and on hit record albums.  She won a Grammy, Emmy awards and she graduated from TV to a Best Supporting Actress of 1975 Oscar nomination for Robert Altman's Nashville.  She also won a Tony for Best Actress of 1985.  The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life In The Universe was such an outstanding one woman show on Broadway that I saw it twice.  Tomlin was brilliant in that show written by Jane Wagner.  Tomlin also received a Kennedy Center Honor.  She's in her 70s now and still at the top of her game.

Grandma is a must-see for Lily Tomlin fans.

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