Tomlin getting better with age
The so-called “grey pound” genre has seen older members of the Hollywood fraternity tackle everything from the ensemble piece (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) to drugged-up debauchery (Stand Up Guys).
Now 76-year-old Lily Tomlin gets behind the wheel for a road movie written and directed by American Pie and About a Boy helmer Paul Weitz.
Tomlin plays pensioner Elle Reid, who embarks on a journey with her pregnant granddaughter Sage ( Julia Garner) to try to get their hands on $600 before sundown.
At a time when awards-baiting flicks and even big budget blockbusters are lucky to clock in at under two hours, it was a refreshing change to sit through a 79-minute, scaled-back story.
Weitz’s leanest film yet is also his best since 2002’s About a Boy; although it’s not without its problems. Though described as a “dramedy”, and despite the presence of comedy legend Tomlin, there aren’t many laughs. The tone of Weitz’s script is more acidic and while the no-fear approach to tackling bigger issues is commendable, it often detracts from the core relationship.
The single-day setting ensures a fast pace but Elle is a character you’d be interested in spending expanded time with and finding more about, not least through a backstory referred to by Sam Elliott’s enigmatic Karl.
It’s refreshing, however, to see an older character who isn’t awash with clichés and Weitz isn’t afraid to gift Elle brash honesty and a firm hand.
Oscar nomination buzz is building for Tomlin’s powerhouse turn and it would be nice to see the Detroit-born star finally receive recognition – her one and only previous Academy nod coming in the Supporting Actress category for Nashville way back in 1976.
Her trademark putdowns are present and correct but there’s also an air of vulnerability that suggests even in her mid-seventies Tomlin is adding new strings to her bow.
Garner (Sin City: A Dame to Kill For) does well to keep up with her vastly more experienced counterpart. She takes what could easily have been a Juno clone and lends Sage fire, heart and tenderness in a nuanced performance that suggests a bright future ahead for the 21-year-old.
Marcia Gay Harden has the unenviable task of trying to talk some sense into the co-leads as Elle’s daughter Judy but there’s a realism to her grown-up beliefs and concerns.
The ending is as mature as the movie’s leading lady and Weitz wisely shies away from the schmaltz that hindered About a Boy’s climax.
Tight, talky and taking on tough issues, Grandma sees Tomlin deservedly grab the headlines but Garner stands up well to ensure this is no onewoman show.
Gran knows best Tomlin and Garner form a bond