Independent films are now basically just films. Granted they’re a genre that allows for a lot more exploration of themes and characters as opposed to plot and story. Ok, they have plots, clearly, but those are generally secondary to “art” stuff. And, to generalize again, I usually hate this kind of crap. But when it’s a film like Grandma I can ignore it.
Lily Tomilin owns this film about a grandmother trying to bond with her granddaughter (Julia Garner) while trying to gather
up the money for an abortion. You’d expect this film to really delve into the abortion debate and to cover those hot button topics in full. You would be wrong. Rather Grandma tackles abortion as simply a fact of life, a thing that needs to be done and is ok, there is no hand wringing or long winded debates, it simply is. Also refeshing is the fact that Tomlin’s character is a widow, her wife having passed away prior to the beginning of the film, and there is no hemming and hawing about a lesbian grandmother, it again just is.
What the film does explore is the strained relationships caused by distance, and how there are an infinite number of ways to be messed up. Garner’s Sage for example is willfull, brash, and sarcastic. She also has a desire to be loved, especially by her distant mother (Marcia Gay Harden). The three women couldn’t be more different but their fundamental similarities are are explored as the bulk of the narrative.
As I said before, this movie doesn’t have a plot so much. The abortion thread hangs in the background and provides a ticking clock for the story, but for the most part the movie plays as a several character vignettes of Tomlin’s Elle meeting various people from her past to try to get the money for the procedure. Each meeting creates another layer in the relationship between the women. We also explore Elle’s past, and see glimpses of what life was like with her late wife – a woman who it seems was the more beloved of the pair – and follow the thread of her present as she tries to rebuild her life after the loss with a new love (Judy Greer).
This movie is just a fun piece. While there are problems here and there, it’s simply a fun movie to watch. Tomlin is a hilarious as she is heartbreaking and Garner is definetly gives a career making performance. The 2 spend the bulk of the film with only each other to play off of and Garner holds her own. Even the heavy emotionality is played with a certain amount of humor. Nothing ever feels forced and the film serves as a glimpse into this one day in these characters’ lives in a very real way.
Grandma is a small movie but a good one. If you’re looking for narrative complexity or a plot that propels the action, look elsewhere. But if you’re looking for a wonderful character piece about 3 generatioitns of women and the paths life has taken them down, then take a chance on Grandma A