That’s a terrible thing to say to someone.
Well, I’m a terrible person.
Grandma has its indie movie beats to hit and it hits them. It’s the tale of an irascible grandmother, played with verve and commitment by Lily Tomlin, attempting to help her granddaughter, played with real sadness and hard-earned wisdom by Julia Garner, procure funds to get an abortion. It kind of instantly set my teeth on edge with its affectations. Like it’s divided into numbered and titled chapters which ain’t that cute? But the film is more than just a pretentious indie flick; Weitz is too good a writer for that. The first third of the film is wearying and was making me regret my decision to come. I love Judy Greer with all of my heart, but her character and that entire arc are really pretty bad. But once Tomlin and Garner hit the road, the movie takes off in some really wonderful ways. The best section of the film revolves around a lengthy scene between Tomlin and Sam Elliott, playing an ex-husband. Elliott is always a charismatic character on screen, but this is maybe the best actual performance I’ve ever seen him give. Karl isn’t the kind of character he usually plays, an affable, likable good ol’ boy; it’s certainly as dark as I’ve ever seen Elliott go and the writing in that section is just incredibly sharp. The sections with Marcia Gay Harden as the daughter/mother, the missing link between grandma and granddaughter, are also very good. Harden finds layers in the character, playing her at first as a stereotypical hard-charging, super-bitchy powersuit, but Weitz isn’t interested in villains and by the time the film has ended, the character has unfolded in some really interesting ways. The film’s flaws are many: a contrived car accident, a bizarrely and stupidly written encounter with religious fundamentalists, the forced scenes with Judy Greer. These all feel like padding; the stuff that’s super good here isn’t long enough for a feature film (even with the padding, the film isn’t even eighty minutes). But the film has its head on straight for a good part of the time. The film feels like a serious examination of the issues surrounding abortion to some degree, but it’s first and foremost a real character study of the three women in this family and Tomlin, Garner and Harden are all really wonderful. Haven’t seen Harden in ages and wasn’t familiar with Garner at all; what a thrill to see them match the wily veteran Tomlin with equally good performances. (Garner, really, may be the best of all, a deeply sad, often frightened performance). It’s a good movie, the genuine greatness of forty minutes or so dragged down by the contrivances and uninteresting shenanigans of the other forty. 3 stars.
tl;dr – while it features an annoying amount of padding, Grandma features a trio of great female performances; sharp characterization and real insights compensate for the annoying bits. 3 stars.