Tak­ing shots at ‘Grandma’

The mood is merry as a Lily Tom­lin trib­ute and a screen­ing of her film open the event.

Los Angeles Times - - MOVIES - By Mark Olsen and Amy Kauf­man mark.olsen@la­times.com. amy.kauf­man@la­times.com

The Los An­ge­les Film Fes­ti­val opened Wed­nes­day night with the film “Grandma” and a trib­ute to its star, Lily Tom­lin. Here’s a re­port from the fes­ti­val.

“It’s just great to have you here for the L.A. pre­miere of Paul Weitz’s ‘Grandma.’ And by that I mean the film, of course.”

In in­tro­duc­ing the open­ing-night film of the Los An­ge­les Film Fes­ti­val, Josh Welsh, pres­i­dent of Film In­de­pen­dent, made a vari­a­tion of a joke on the movie’s ti­tle that would be heard a few times through­out the pre-show.

Writ­ten and di­rected by Weitz, “Grandma” is a rare star­ring ve­hi­cle for Tom­lin, who plays Elle Reid, a on­cenoted poet still griev­ing over the loss of her long­time part­ner. One morn­ing, her grand­daugh­ter Sage (Ju­lia Garner) ar­rives need­ing money for an abor­tion ap­point­ment that day. Elle is broke her­self, and the two set out in search of any­one will­ing to lend them the money, hop­ing to avoid go­ing to Sage’s mother/Elle’s daugh­ter (Mar­cia Gay Har­den). In a last-ditch ef­fort, they visit Elle’s old flame (Sam El­liott), whom she hasn’t seen in 30 years.

“I did a film called ‘Ad­mis­sion’ where Lily played Tina Fey’s mother. It was a sup­port­ing role, and I wanted to come up with an ex­cuse for hang­ing out more with Lily Tom­lin,” Weitz said by way of in­tro­duc­ing the film.

“So I fig­ured if I wrote a script where she’s in ev­ery scene, I could get some qual- ity time with Lily Tom­lin,” he added.

All of the film’s main cast was there, as Weitz in­tro­duced Tom­lin, Garner, Har­den, El­liott and Judy Greer.

LAFF has for the last few years been cen­tered at the Re­gal the­aters at L.A. Live. The main house is among the big­gest screens in the city, and a de­lib­er­ately small, care­fully cal­i­brated char­ac­ter piece like “Grandma” could po­ten­tially be over­whelmed by the size of the the­ater. It spoke to the strength of the film’s per­for­mances and its sub­tle charms and ob­ser­va­tions that it man­aged to fill the room with emo­tional nu­ance and scaled power rather than loud ex­plo­sions and splashy ef­fects.

Be­fore the fea­ture, there was a short film fi­nanced by Amer­i­can Air­lines ex­tolling film pro­duc­tion in Los An­ge­les. Di­rected by Film In­de­pen­dent fel­low Ryan Ve­lasquez, it fea­tured var­i­ous sta­tis­tics as well as Weitz and film­mak­ers Ava DuVer­nay, Sean Baker, and oth­ers on the virtues of shoot­ing in the city, in­clud­ing com­ments from Mayor Eric Garcetti.

After the movie, at a party across the street, talk cen­tered not just on the per­for­mance by Tom­lin but also on El­liott. His sin­gle, long scene is a pow­er­house and finds the rugged ac­tor dis­play­ing more emo­tional range and depth than he is of­ten called on to do. Though it is only sum­mer, there was much talk as to whether both Tom­lin and El­liott might still be talked about come awards sea­son.

“Grandma” comes to the­aters in late Au­gust from awards-savvy dis­trib­u­tor Sony Pic­tures Clas­sics, in some­thing of a pre-fall slot that could well po­si­tion it to be re­mem­bered for year-end con­sid­er­a­tion.

Tom­lin re­ceived the fes­ti­val’s Spirit of In­de­pen­dence award, an hour be­fore “Grandma” screened for the open­ing-night crowd.

Garner ap­peared en­dear­ingly anx­ious as she talked about Tom­lin’s inf lu­ence on her as a young girl. Yes, she’d seen “9 to 5” and “Nashville” — but it was Tom­lin’s voice act­ing as teacher Mrs. Friz­zle on “The Magic School Bus” that af­fected her most.

“She was my hero,” Garner said. “Ev­ery week, Mrs. Friz­zle would take her stu­dents through the hu­man body or outer space. I wanted her to be my teacher. … She al­ways said to her stu­dents, ‘Take chances and make mis­takes and get messy!’ And that’s ex­actly what I learned from Lily.”

After ac­cept­ing her award, Tom­lin set­tled in for a Q&A with LAFF cu­ra­tor Elvis Mitchell, ini­tially re­call­ing her early act­ing in­flu­ences — Eileen Heckart in “The Bad Seed,” a school teacher who read her di­alect po­ems, ra­dio char­ac­ter shows.

Then there were the sto­ries about all the leg­ends she’s worked with. Among the high­lights:

Be­fore Richard Pryor agreed to par­tic­i­pate in one of her va­ri­ety spe­cials, Tom­lin re­vealed, he made her at­tend a porno movie with him. “I said, ‘I will go, but I will pay my own way,’ ” she said. “So we went to a porno movie, and it wasn’t that good.”

She tried to get out of “9 to 5” just days into pro­duc­tion. “I saw the dailies and thought I was just hor­ri­ble,” she said. “I thought, ‘I’m just so phony and aw­ful.” She pleaded with a pro­ducer to leave, say­ing she didn’t need any money. Jane Fonda vis­ited her in her trailer to try and “soften the sit­u­a­tion.” And once she saw a few more dailies, she de­cided to stay.

On the set of “Nashville,” di­rec­tor Robert Alt­man smoked so much mar­i­juana each evening that Tom­lin wor­ried he’d be too messed up to make it to set the next day. But to her sur­prise, he’d al­ways be there at 5 a.m., “rid­ing the crane.” Also: He ap­par­ently had “very beau­ti­ful, long, sen­si­tive, artis­tic fin­gers.”

Pho­tog raphs by Luis Sinco Los An­ge­les Times

MAR­CIA GAY HAR­DEN of the film “Grandma” on the red car­pet for open­ing night of the L.A. Film Fes­ti­val.

LILY TOM­LIN is f lanked by “Grandma” costars Judy Greer, left, Ju­lia Garner.

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