The veteran American actress, who has been seen too rarely on the big screen in recent years but returned to the spotlight with the TV series Grace and Frankie, is at her hilarious best as the loud, acerbic, lesbian poet Elle (aka Grandma).
Elle is still grieving the loss of her long-time partner, Vi, and Grandma begins with her unceremoniously dumping much younger girlfriend Olivia (Judy Greer), whom she has been dating for the past four months.
But there’s little time to dwell on the break-up, because suddenly teenage granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) lobs on her doorstep, pregnant and wanting $630 to pay for an abortion later the same day.
Trouble is, Grandma is flat broke. She cut up her credit cards and turned them into a wind chime.
The one person they both want to avoid asking for help is Elle’s daughter and Sage’s mum, Judy (Marcia Gay Harden), an intimidating and serious corporate high-flier with whom they both have an uneasy relationship. So instead the pair set out on a mini road trip across Los Angeles in a classic 1955 Dodge Royal (owned by Tomlin in real life) to try to raise the money.
They visit everyone from Sage’s boyfriend – it doesn’t go so well for him – to Elle’s old pals and flames, including a tattooist named Death (Orange is the New Black’s Laverne Cox) and still-bitter ex-husband Karl (Sam Elliott), rattling skeletons and creating mayhem along the way.
Written and directed by Paul Weitz (About a Boy), Grandma delivers plenty of laughs thanks to both the sharp script and flawless delivery; the “drip coffee” café scene is a highlight.
The film is also full of warmth and tenderness. It centres on the relationship between three generations of women, but mostly on that very special connection between a grandmother and granddaughter.
Garner (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) proves the perfect foil for Tomlin, striking the right balance between sweet naivety and teenage impatience as young Sage, who has a lot of life lessons to learn from Grandma.
“You know, you need to be able to say ‘Screw you!’ sometimes,” Elle tells her.
Amen to that.
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