Once a staple of 80s American comedy, appearing in the likes of All Of Me, Big Business and Nine to Five, the fantastic Lilly Tomlin returns to the silver screen in her first solo-lead role since The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981). Reuniting with Writer/ Director Paul Weitz (About a Boy, American Pie) for Grandma, her greatest film and performance yet, Tomlin plays the fusty Elle Reid, a poet “marginally well known forty years ago” in this mordantly earnest and heart-warming drama.
After separating from girlfriend Olivia (Judy Greer), Elle is visited by her teenage granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) who announces she is pregnant and asks for the money to pay for an abortion. Elle is broke, having cut up her credit cards and turned them into a wind chimes, so sets off with Sage to find the cash. Approaching crotchety ex-work colleagues, reflective old flames and disgruntled friends from the past, Elle and Sage attempt to source the funds from this strange wealth of characters while learning about life and each other in the process.
Grandma’s journey is grounded yet magical in its ability to mine humanity from a delicate source with sarcasm. Brilliantly crafted comedy is skilfully honed from a smooth yet sinuous screenplay while excellent editing helps orchestrate the big laugh build ups. Through vigilant writing and enchanting performances it is easy to relate to Elle and Sage’s imperfections as the two face hardship and deal with their mistakes. Sam Elliot pops up as a wrinkly shirt wearing ex while the tremendous Marcia Gay Harden plays Elle’s frosty, caffeine-fired daughter Judy and Garner is breathtaking as Sage.
Grandma expertly juggles engrossing drama with a steady bombardment of wit that will make your eyes water, your face ache and will leave you in need of a jaw massage. The film and protagonist don’t try too hard to govern emotions and the story shies from convention for a sincere and stirring ending. Tomlin feels like a shoe in come Oscar time (or a nomination at least) as her enthralling performance is sure to tickle, rouse, resonate and crack the hardest of hearts.