Grandma

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Self-described misanthrope Elle Reid has her protective bubble burst when her 18-year-old granddaughter, Sage, shows up needing help. The two of them go on a day-long journey that causes Elle to come to terms with her past and Sage to confront her future.
"Weitz wisely has no time for fluff - these are clever women charting tricky territory and spending 78 minutes in their company is an easy choice to make."

When Paul Weitz broke onto the scene with American Pie, he pushed the idea of gross-out comedy to the limits. Now, a decade and a half later, he proves he is still interested in material that many mainstream audiences would consider edgy - in this case, late-in-life lesbianism and abortion - but it's testimony to his abilities as a writer that he manages to keep his characters to the fore rather than the issues.

Weitz - who featured Lily Tomlin in 2013's Admission - must surely have had her in mind when he was writing the role of Elle Reid, and the actress takes it on with the sort of fierceness and fearlessness that tends to come to the fore as people grow older, if my grandparents are anything to go by. Elle is a poet, whose levels of bitterness have been steadily on the rise since the loss of the love of her life Violet - the sentiment here is overplayed but at least her lost love is glimpsed only in pictures rather than flashback.

Weitz decides to frontload the plot, which favours information over laughs, as we watch first Elle's latest love Olivia (Judy Greer) walk out of the door and then her granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) walk through it, desperate for cash to get an abortion because her mum Judy (Marcia Gay Harden) has taken her credit card off her. It's a lot to take in but once the film hits the road - Elle doesn't have the cash to help, so needs to go and beg her friends for help - the film hits its stride.

The pair embark on a series of meet ups which - in between Elle's acidic one-liners - gradually gather emotional weight. While some of the encounters, such as the one between Sage's ex (Nat Wolff) and her grandma are mainly played for laughs, others explore the way Elle has faced her own difficult choices in the past and reveal vulnerabilities that lie beneath her prickly exterior. A lynchpin scene with Sam Elliott (cropping up in three films at Sundance in 2015 but at his finest here), shows how 30 years of not seeing a person can melt away in moments but also reveals how old wounds often need little to reopen them.

Elliot's character is strongly drawn. Although he is only present for a few minutes, we feel as though we know this man with his multiple wives, obvious success and hidden disappointments. The same is true of virtually every role, with Weitz building his film to a crescendo face-off between the three generations of women in the family. And while praise will rightly be laid at Tomlin's door, the performances are excellent across the board, with scenes between her, Garner and Harden offering that odd combination of spiky confrontation and deep connection that often happens in families.

This is an unashamedly female-centric film not only in terms of characters but in respect of its considerations, with motherhood, choices and female companionship all to the fore. Weitz wisely has no time for fluff - these are clever women charting tricky territory, and spending 78 minutes in their company is an easy choice to make.

Reviewed on: 31 Mar 2015
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A woman tries to help her granddaughter raise funds for an abortion.
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