Directed and written by Paul Weitz (American Pie, Little Fockers), Grandma is small, funky, funny, intelligent, and full of heart. It’s a picaresque thing about a tough 70-something lesbian teacher and poet, played to the hilt by Lily Tomlin, who is still reeling from the death of her partner of 38 years. In a single day, our flinty widowed heroine boots out her much-younger girlfriend (Judy Greer) of four months (“You’re a footnote,” she tells her) and gets hit up by her high school senior granddaughter (Julia Garner) for $600 for an abortion she desperately needs. Since grandma isn’t in the chips, the quest sends the two of them driving through L.A. in grandmother’s rattletrap old Dodge trying to rustle up the funds from her narrow range of friends, colleagues, and ex-partners, including the owner of a coffeehouse (the late Elizabeth Pena) that was housed a women’s free clinic, the useless, moronic baby daddy (Nat Wolff) whose ass she whips, a transgendered tattoo artist (Laverne Cox) to whom she lent money, and the girl’s uptight lawyer mother (Marcia Gay Harden).
In the movie’s best, deepest scene, Tomlin’s character is reunited with an old lover (Sam Elliott, killing it) and the two actors play out the couple’s long history, deep pain, affection, and unresolved conflicts like pair of old masters. It’s a no-frills movie, filled with funny, shrewd comments about the massive generation gap between feminist grandmother and in-the-now granddaughter (the latter of whom wonders if The Feminine Mystique is an X-Men reference) and the passage of time in which calling someone a “writer-in-residence” is a slam.
The movie’s ace in the hole is Tomlin, for whom Weitz wrote the movie, and she is quietly, authoritatively and award-worthy astonishing. It’s a great performance in an unsentimental, beautifully directed movie filled with smarts and heart. Good stuff.