Life is abut choices. Some are quick, but others stick around and linger for the rest of our existence. This lesson is learned by Sage (Julia Garner) as she rides alongside her grandmother, Elle (Lily Tomlin), searching for money to pay for the abortion she seeks. This is the first sidestep that Sage is taking in her life and the strength of Grandma is how her problem allows Elle to tackle her own indiscretions.
The story begins when Sage walks up to her grandmother’s front door and asks for more than $600 to pay for an abortion after she realized she was pregnant. Elle would love to help her granddaughter but knows that money isn’t flowing out of her pockets. Instead, she decides to pick up on some promises and grab the much needed cash there.
Sage’s need is the story, but the film is Tomlin’s. A tour-de-force performance, akin to Alan Arkin’s work in Little Miss Sunshine, Tomlin brings the fire and personality needed to hold the attention of the audience. Elle is a tough character, but not one without a heart. Director Paul Weitz and Tomlin open us up to Elle using the small moments with Grandma working as a great reminder that true personality is seen when no one is looking.
Elle is a bull in a china shop wherever she goes, rumbling through each conversation and interaction with no regard for how the end game will be. But, there is some warmth underneath the fire-breathing dragon and Tomlin is able to bring that out when it is most needed. At the beginning of the film, she has just broken up with her girlfriend, Olivia (Judy Greer), who doesn’t understand why she has spent so much time with someone who doesn’t seem to love her in return.
But, Elle does love her — in her own way. The first tender moment of the film comes when Olivia leaves the home and Tomlin is shown crying in the shower, trying to hide her true feelings and the fact that she has been hurting since her long-time partner died years before.
Grandma is a small-scale story, but one that speaks to the trials of every day life. Not everyone deals with the predicament that Sage is facing, but it works well to feel similar to the growth of yourself as a human being. Elle is always human even when she lashes out against the people in her life that seemingly care about her even when she doesn’t deserve it. We all know that person and Tomlin plays her to a tee.
The whole cast is strong, but it again feels like this is Tomlin’s film. It isn’t a movie that has much room to work outside of this story and it feels constricted to the small scale that was set in front of it. But that isn’t a fault, instead, it is a friendly reminder to the ability of film to capture life and its intimate moments.
Grandma is a story about growth and one that is propelled by a powerhouse Lily Tomlin performance. It is also a movie about life and how the smallest moments show the grandest possibilities.