Dramedy: A surly lesbian grandmother hits the road with her pregnant granddaughter to find money for the teen's abortion.
Elle Reid (LILY TOMLIN) is a former somewhat famous poet who's been dating the much younger Olivia (JUDY GREER) for the past four months, but has decided to dump her, saying she's just a footnote compared to the previous, 38-year relationship she had with another woman. Elle's mind is taken off that when her teenager granddaughter, Sage (JULIA GARNER), shows up and says she's pregnant by her part-time boyfriend, Cam (NAT WOLF). Sage doesn't want to go to her demanding business owner mother, Judy (MARCIA GAY HARDEN), for money to have an abortion, with Elle not blaming her as she herself has an estranged at best relationship with that woman.
Since Elle doesn't have the money herself, she and Sage set out to visit a number of people who might be able to help. That includes Deathy (LAVERNE COX), a tattoo parlor artist; Carla (ELIZABETH PENA) who runs a cafe and might be interested in some first-edition books Elle owns; and Karl (SAM ELLIOTT), a man Elle hasn't seen for decades since unexpectedly dumping him. With the chances of getting the money being up in the air, Elle must come to grips with her past as well as her current relationship with her daughter and granddaughter.
OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Due to living hours apart, I didn't see a great deal of my grandparents growing up in the 1960s and '70s. Sure, we'd visit at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and usually in the summer, but I didn't have the same sort of relationship with them as did my wife with hers (living in the same area) or many other people I know with theirs.
To me, as a kid, my grandmothers were more approachable and friendly than their husbands, and they were open and accepting of me and my sister. But I always viewed them as nice senior citizens we occasionally would visit rather than fully rounded people who I now wish I had known better.
Of course, and despite them obviously likely having bad days and some moments of anger, frustration and other negative emotions, I'm fairly certain they were nothing like Lily Tomlin's title character in "Grandma." For starters, Elle Reid is a broke, lesbian poet who not so nicely dumps her most recent girlfriend (Judy Greer), telling her she's just a footnote compared to her previous love of 38-years.
Through other telltale signs writer/director Paul Weitz ("About a Boy," "Admission") drops along the way, Tomlin's character is a full-out misanthrope, the kind who'd likely scare away any grandchildren should she have ever had any. It turns out she does have one, teenager Sage (Julia Garner), from her own long-estranged daughter (Marcia Gay Harden).
But the girl either doesn't seem to mind her grandma's surly attitude or is preoccupied with her own issues, what with finding herself pregnant and with no money to pay for the abortion she wants to have. Knowing her harried businesswoman mom would flip out over such news, the girl has turned to dear old grandma, unaware that she's cut up her credit cards and doesn't have enough cash on hand.
What follows is a road trip dramedy storyline where Elle drives Sage around, visiting old friends and acquaintances, trying to come up with a way to raise the needed money. And with each visit, we learn more about her character, including -- natch -- past incidents that have led her to become the person she is today.
Viewer reaction to that setup and those involved's execution of said material will largely depend on how one views the topic of abortion, spending time with such misanthropic characters, and road trip plots in general. Not to mention a film that tries to cover a great deal of topics and themes in its decidedly brief, 80-some minute running time.
Perhaps it was due to barely making it to the press screening (and missing dinner) after traveling halfway across the city from another screening that started late, but I was only lukewarm about the flick. It was nice seeing Tomlin (who I grew up watching on "Laugh-In") back up on the big screen in the lead role for the first time since who knows when. She delivers a good, multi-layered performance as a woman who, like my own grandmothers, obviously has more going on within her than her immediate, surface qualities would suggest.
The plot, though, leaves something to be desired, especially in trying to cram so much into so little time and thus only giving superficial attention to any of that. It's possible another, less harried visit to the film might change my mind. Aside from Tomlin's performance, however, I don't really feel the need to spend any more time with this "Grandma." The film rates as a 5 out of 10.