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While Grandma might not be worth the travel costs, while it remains in limited release, Tomlin and company still deliver the type of performances worth eventually checking out.
Characters & Story
Sage (Julia Garner) has discovered she is 10 weeks pregnant and since her boyfriend Cam (Nat Wolff) isn’t going to cough up any money for an abortion, and since telling her mother Judy (Marcia Gay Harden) isn’t much of an option, she decides to go to her grandmother Elle (Lily Tomlin). Which perhaps isn’t the best idea since Elle is going through some stuff. For one, she just recently broke up with Olivia (Judy Greer), is still mourning the loss of Violet, her partner, and with her not releasing anything in years, even her career isn’t where she wants it to be.
However, being that her relationships with most people are strained, and she can tell Sage is in deep need of some assistance, Elle does everything, and anything, possible in order to help her granddaughter get her abortion. All the while trying to mend and heal a few old relationships on the way.
When it comes to the film, Tomlin is really the only one who truly gets to shine. For, despite the movie being about Sage getting the money for her abortion, it rarely ever gives Garner any opportunity to piggyback off Tomlin to help her star rise. I mean, Tomlin straight up dominates. This is mostly due to the movie being written around her playing this old, sort of mean, yet comical, person who despite cursing up a storm, and pissing quite a few people off, remains likable.
As for everyone, and everything, else? Well, the commentary on abortions I thought had its moments of both comedy and really speaking on the impact of it. Also, again focusing on Tomlin, I enjoyed us getting to know a bit about her backstory and how she went from married, living with a man on a boat, to a renowned writer whose work is in anthologies and is now in a state where life may have got her tired, but she ain’t broken.
The main issue with this film is that despite all this build of how Elle has ruined so many relationships, the resolution to many of them, especially with her daughter Judy, are just weak. Part of the reason for this might be to show that relationships can’t be fully mended in a day but, at the same time, considering how much time is spent on establishing how much Elle has done to damage her relationships, you’d think there would have been more time spent showing us how she plans to mend them.
For example, it is well established that Judy and Elle don’t get along, but when it comes to Sage they can get on the same page. So it would have been nice if the movie didn’t end with Elle walking away from Olivia’s house, after taking everything she said back, but maybe showing that even with Violet gone, Elle can still be an active member of her family.
Which presents another issue. It isn’t fully clear what kind of a relationship Elle has with Sage, or anyone really. I mean, we are told once Violet became sick that few people came around, but with the way Sage speaks, and how everyone reacts to Elle, you’d think she went into hiding and rarely called or visited anyone. Leading to another topic I wish was explored: Violet. For with her being a huge part of Elle’s life, and a constant topic throughout the movie, it would have been nice for a few flashbacks and not just her being mentioned. Since, truly, there were times when I honestly didn’t understand why we didn’t get to see Violet and Elle meet for the first time; why we didn’t get to see them raise Judy together; or see Violet’s final moments.
Overall: TV Viewing
This film definitely isn’t worth traveling far to see. In fact, I’d argue that the film seems like something which should have very well been released on demand. If only because it is a bit fractured. Garner technically should be the star, yet all the focus is on Tomlin. However, because everything Elle does deals with trying to help Sage, we don’t get to really dive deeply into Elle’s life. We just listen to her, and her friends, reminisce and watch as it is established that her daughter is almost of the same personality, and this is why she can’t get along with her. Ultimately leaving you dissatisfied for Garner doesn’t get her moment in the sun, and then with Tomlin’s character, it is like you are seeing a script which couldn’t decide whether to focus on the new talent, which is Garner, or really dive into the life of the character Elle. Hence the TV Viewing label for if this just focused on Elle, her life with Violet, and even her time with Karl (Sam Elliott), then we would have had something worth seeing. Also, at the same time, if this just focused on Sage, and established her messed up family, her situation, and the complications which come with contemplating an abortion, then, again, we may have had something worth seeing. However, neither storyline is fully developed here, and with that comes the disappointment.