Tomlin sparkles in a choice cut
GRANDMA Directed by Paul Weitz. Starring Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Marcia Gay Harden, Judy Greer, Laverne Cox, Elizabeth Peña, Sam Elliott. Cert 16, general release, 79mins On paper, the synopsis of Grandma reads as if the film was created with the express intention of annoying the rightwing moral mavens at Fox News. A crisis-pregnancy comedy – uh, oh – featuring Lily Tomlin as Elle, a retired lesbian poet whose granddaughter, Sage ( The Perks of Being a Wallflower’s Julia Garner) needs an abortion. Laverne Cox, the transgender star of Orange is the New Black, has a supporting role as a tattoo artist.
Before anyone reaches for their placard of choice, Grandma is rather more complicated than its pitch – or its anti-arsenumbing run time – might suggest.
The prospect of termination is not, despite occasional outbursts of pro-choice bravado from the eponymous heroine, taken lightly by either of the two women, who head off in Elle’s creaky 1955 Dodge Royal mother-in-law, to a comprehensive study of the woman who helped introduce America to modern art. Every corner has been probed. We begin with Peggy Guggenheim’s early life as a Manhattan heiress (her father famously died on the Titanic) and then to Paris where she moved among a delicious array of the century’s most formative talents. She heard Joyce sing traditional songs. She met Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali.
When asked what question he would put to her, Diego Cortez, the no wave curator, replies: “How was Samuel Beckett in bed?” Cortez does not seem to be as sound on gender as we might have hoped, (Tomlin’s own) in order to raise the funds required. Their adventures take in forgotten feminist subcultures, Sage’s ne’er-do-well ex-boyfriend, one of Elle’s bruised old flames (Sam Elliott) and multigenerational friction: Sage has never heard of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique; Elle doesn’t but his query does help confirm that she inhabited the innermost circle of High Bohemia.
It seems she began collecting contemporaneous art as a hobby. She had a keen eye, good advisors and a canny attitude to money. By the 1950s her New York gallery was a nirvana for the new movements. Guggenheim was instrumental in launching Jackson Pollock and acted as a patron for the dripper during his rising years.
Vreeland structures her film around a series of taped interviews (long thought lost) that Guggenheim gave to her biographer Jacqueline Bograd Weld. The chipped patrician voice talks us through a life that seems characterised by insecuri-
Multi-generational friction: Lily Tomlin and Julia Garner in Grandma
know who Mystique from X-Men is.
Mostly, this is a stealth study of grief: Elle has not, despite the romantic interest of a younger lover (Judy Greer), come to terms with the loss of her partner of 40 years, and her loss is trumpeted in outbursts of misanthropy and scorn. When we finally met Sage’s mom (Marcia Gay Harden), we realise that this was a family trait even before the loss.
Paul Weitz, the co-creator of American Pie, wrote the clever, consistently funny, surprisingly affecting script especially for Tomlin, who hearts back with one of the best performances of the year. ty. There were many lovers. She suffered some spousal abuse. No one man seems to have connected satisfactorily with an inaccessible psyche. Still, she forged a singular career at a time when women collectors were regularly patronised.
The director does not stint on the talking heads. John Richardson and Marina Abramovic hold forth. Robert De Niro gives his best performance for years as a famous actor talking about his artist parents.
For all that, this is another biographical documentary that fails to escape the meat-and-potatoes PBS style of film-making. It’s worth seeing in the cinema, but it will lose little on TV.