GRANDMA, drama, rated R, Vi­o­let Crown, 3 chiles

Pasatiempo - - CONTENT -

The ti­tle hints at where we’re go­ing. This is a movie about re­la­tion­ships. The cen­tral re­la­tion­ship is the one that binds Elle (Lily Tom­lin) and her teenage grand­daugh­ter Sage ( Ju­lia Garner). But there are a bunch of oth­ers in this sweet, funny, thought­ful chap­ter-book, writ­ten and di­rected by Paul Weitz (About a Boy).

One of them is com­ing to an end as the movie opens, as Elle breaks off her four-month re­la­tion­ship with a much younger lover, Olivia (Judy Greer). This chap­ter is called “end­ings,” and in it, we learn of a more painful re­cent end­ing, the death of Elle’s long­time com­pan­ion Vi. Elle re­al­izes that her new re­la­tion­ship is wrong for many rea­sons, age not the least of them, and she feels she has to end it bru­tally to cut the cord. “You’re a foot­note,” she tells the stunned Olivia.

Elle is a poet who was once “marginally fa­mous,” but that too ended long ago. As she wal­lows nos­tal­gi­cally over scrap­books af­ter Olivia’s de­par­ture, her grand­daugh­ter ar­rives on her doorstep, bring­ing with her yet another end­ing: She’s preg­nant, and she needs money for an abor­tion.

Elle is broke, and she’s cut up her credit cards to make a wind chime (“I’m trans­mo­gri­fy­ing my life into art.”) And so the two pile into Elle’s an­cient Dodge and visit a num­ber of her friends and ac­quain­tances try­ing to bor­row the money for Sage’s pro­ce­dure, as the story moves through chap­ters with names like “ink,” “the ogre,” and “kids.”

The bedrock of Grandma is Tom­lin’s smart, caus­tic, lov­ing por­trayal of Elle, but the rest of the cast doesn’t let her down. The pretty, elfin Greer holds her own against Tom­lin’s pow­er­house per­for­mance. Mar­cia Gay Har­den plays Elle’s daugh­ter and Sage’s mother as a tough-as-nails busi­ness­woman with a heart that’s been well-in­su­lated but still might be ac­ces­si­ble. And best of all is Sam El­liott as Karl, another fig­ure from Elle’s past. El­liott takes us well be­yond that lov­able growl of a voice to un­cover lay­ers and depths he’s sel­dom called upon to tap.

Grandma suf­fers a few awk­ward mo­ments, but for the most part it stays sharp. In the old days, movies fol­lowed pre­scribed for­mu­las and con­ven­tions when it came to sto­ries in­volv­ing some of the key el­e­ments fea­tured here, like les­bian re­la­tion­ships and abor­tion. Weitz does in­ter­est­ing things with those old con­ven­tions, weav­ing them into a story that bor­rows from tried-and-true fa­mil­iar for­mats — it’s a bit of a road movie, a bit of a buddy movie — and then qui­etly goes its own way. — Jonathan Richards

Gen­er­a­tion trap: Lily Tom­lin

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