Sundance 2015 Review: Grandma

Writer-director Paul Weitz’s immediately loveable dramedy, Grandma, is a joyous romp that serves as a shining testament to the outstanding comic talents of Lily Tomlin.

Grandma follows grieving and broke academic Elle Reid (Tomlin) as she rallies around small-town California with her pregnant granddaughter, Sage (Julia Garner), in a desperate attempt to gain enough funds for her abortion.

Weitz’s screenplay hits a well-paced balance between heartfelt drama and vitriolic comedy. Packed with mature characters, Grandma stands as an amusing and tender look at female relationships – from the growing bond between Sage and her Grandmother to the mother-daughter bond showcased through both Elle and Judy’s (Marcia Gay Harden) initially-cold relationship and Sage and Judy’s relationship. Whilst this is by no means an original concept to tackle, Weitz’s characters are so well-written in their emotional boldness and humour that it is impossible not to be engrossed by Grandma.

The shining beacon at the centre of Grandma, however, is the outstandingly crafted Elle Reid. Tomlin is perfectly cast as the struggling academic, capturing her sharp intelligence, gutsy attitude and tender emotional backbone. Tomlin excels at delivering Elle’s sharp put-downs and reflecting her take-no-prisoners attitude – best showcased in a hilarious scene which sees her take down the stoner father of her granddaughter’s unborn child. Truly multi-dimensional in spirit, Elle’s tough attitude is explored as a coping mechanism to the death of her partner of thirty-nine years, whilst there is also the sense that this anger feels like a means of protecting her loved ones. Tomlin is truly remarkable in Grandma, a film that can easily be described as a career best performance.

Weitz’s direction feels intimate in its portrayal of familial relationships – capturing what feels like authentic multi-character dynamics. It is also a joy to see a lesbian character at the heart of a high-profile release. There are no gimmicks drawn from Elle’s sexuality, this is simply a refreshing drama in which the central character happens to be gay.

Impeccable support from the talented Julia Garner who packs a real vulnerability and subtle strength into the role of Sage, a surprisingly emotional turn from Sam Elliott, an appearance from the charismatic Laverne Cox, and a gleefully over-the-top role for Marcia Gay Harden round off Grandma.

Gorgeously crafted characters, well-pitched comedy, and a career best performance from Lily Tomlin all contribute to Grandma‘s impressive stature as one of the most charming indies in recent years.

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