Genre: Comedy, Drama
Director/Writer: Paul Weitz
Music: Joel P. West
Cinematography: Tobias Datum
Marcia Gay Harden
The 10th feature film of Paul Weitz, the USA director who has brought us AMERICAN PIE (1999) and ABOUT A BOY (2002), is a Lily Tomlin tailor-made drama-comedy, which shot only in 19 days in a puny budget. It stars Tomlin as the titular grandma Elle, a lesbian who has lost her long-time companion about one and a half year ago, the movie depicts her life in one particular day, divided over 6 chapters, starts with an intense break-up with her much younger current girlfriend Olivia (Greer).
Then her granddaughter Sage (Garner) arrives uninvited, because she is pregnant and needs money for an abortion due in the afternoon, and she is too afraid to tell her mother Judy (Harden) about it, so Elle becomes her only hope. Weitz goes out a limb here to configure Elle, a passé poet who has her own house and leads an independent life, as a woman who doesn’t have any money, even several hundreds bucks at hand, or in her account to provide succour for the emergency, only to set in motion the grandma-granddaughter money-questing road trip.
Various sorts Elle and Sage visit, firstly Elle teaches a hard lesson to Sage’s scumbag boyfriend Cam, who gets her pregnant and shuns the responsibility to snag the money. Driving an archaic 1955 Dodge Royal, Elle brings Sage to her trans-friend, a tattooist Deathy (Cox), who owes her money but is broke too; try to sell her first-edition books to Carla (the late Elizabeth Peña, R.I.P.), who owns the café where Olivia works; ask help from her ex-husband Karl (Elliott), whom she jilted and haven’t met for over four decades, and clearly he still holds the grudge to her in spite of being all flirty, especially when he knows what the money is for, Sam Elliott is incredibly poignant in his limited screen time when shifting from an old flame’s chat-up to a sudden and overpowering outburst of wrath. Finally, Judy is their last resort, three women of three generations (all independent of man in their lives, Sage’s father is an anonymous sperm donor), united by this incident, and divulge their true feelings, maybe their problems cannot be solved, at least, it is a substantial step to start.
Like Sage, we all watch Elle’s backstories unfold through this not so long journey, and begin to know this old lady bit by bit, her feminist stance, misanthropic characteristic (quote Sage), atheist belief, a tentative marriage with a man before going full lesbian, having a baby from a one-night-stand, enjoying a fulfilled life with her partner Vi until the latter’s departure, attracting to Olivia but deterred by their huge age difference. It is a role Tomlin has been waiting for all these decades, a sharp-tongued, avant-garde spitfire, but at the same time, a sensitive soul overflowing with passion, fear and sense of justice, it is a tremendously heart-warming performance, she is the grandma we all wish to have. Judy Greer and Marcia Gay Harden are great as we expect, but I also want to namecheck Julia Garner for her indelible presence as Sage, a keen observer, a disgruntled teenager, and a force of uncompromising grit, so something does run through the family lineage.
Running only at 79 minutes, the movie leaves us unsatisfied although the narrative finishes with a beautiful arch of consummation, it is an indie gem one shouldn’t miss among zillions of options.