Grandma

There’s already Oscar buzz sur­round­ing Lily Tom­lin’s star­ring role in “Grandma,” a road trip film that just hap­pens to be the most openly queer pro­ject for the long un-closeted les­bi­an act­ress.

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There’s already Oscar buzz sur­round­ing Lily Tom­lin’s star­ring role in “Grandma,” a road trip film that just hap­pens to be the most openly queer pro­ject for the long un-closeted les­bi­an act­ress. Writer-dir­ect­or Paul Weitz opens the movie by pulling view­ers in­to the in­tim­acy of that sub­ject mat­ter, de­pict­ing a break­up between aging poet Elle (Tom­lin) and her much young­er girl­friend, Olivia (Judy Greer). But as much as “Grandma” opts make its gay ele­ments a non­is­sue, this ad­mir­able vehicle for Tom­lin, 75, isn’t ex­actly a must-see.

What kicks off the plot isn’t the break-up, but break­ing news from Elle’s grand­daugh­ter, Sage (Ju­lia Garner), a preg­nant teen who turns to Elle as a last re­sort to get an abor­tion. Though Elle is vol­un­tar­ily broke (she paid off her debts, paid off her home, and cut up her cred­it cards), she agrees to help Sage deal with her pre­dic­a­ment, com­men­cing a trek through Cali­for­nia to ask old friends for money.

It’s a clas­sic struc­ture: Two char­ac­ters bond while en­coun­ter­ing mul­tiple ec­cent­rics, giv­ing the film the op­por­tun­ity to rope in a hand­ful of guest stars. In “Grandma,” this for­mula proves hit or miss. As one of Elle’s ex­per­i­ment­al exes, Sam El­li­ot is ef­fort­lessly heart­break­ing — a hand­some old her­mit who can’t hide his linger­ing scars. Lav­erne Cox, on the oth­er hand, comes off like a bit of stunt-cast­ing — a mis­cast, missed op­por­tun­ity to give the film a snap of di­versity.

But what’s most fas­cin­at­ing — and, ul­ti­mately, most damning — about “Grandma” is its curi­ous brand of fem­in­ism. The movie un­ques­tion­ably pro­motes that a wo­man should have full con­trol of her own body; however, it un­wit­tingly treats is­sues of preg­nancy and ma­ter­nity as some sort of gen­er­a­tion­al dis­ease. Elle had an abor­tion her­self be­fore con­ceiv­ing Sage’s moth­er, Judy (Mar­cia Gay Harden), dur­ing a one-night stand. Judy, in turn, had Sage via a sperm donor, mil­it­antly keep­ing men out of the pic­ture al­to­geth­er. The os­tens­ible ef­fort to give these wo­men agency in­stead re­gisters as a lin­eage of me­lo­dra­mat­ic suf­fer­ing, res­ult­ing a rather self-de­feat­ing mor­al to the story.

Tom­lin is a treas­ure — if only her movie were, too.

Grandma

R
Two reels out of four
Com­ing soon to the Ritz Five  

Re­com­men­ded Rent­al:

The D-Train

R
Avail­able Tues­day[if !sup­portEmp­ty­Paras] 

Roles of mas­culin­ity are keenly tested in this un­der­rated and un­der­seen gem, which plumbs the nu­ances of male re­la­tion­ships like few that have come be­fore it. Jack Black plays an un­dy­ing people-pleas­er who’s still chas­ing the cool­ness he couldn’t find in high school, while James Marsden plays the pan­sexu­al act­or act­or who may be a tick­et to middle-age cool­ness. It all adds up to a shrewd­ness that’s too rare for mod­ern com­ed­ies. 
 

Con­tact the South Philly Re­view at ed­it­or@south­phil­lyre­view.com.


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