This has arguably been the best summer for women in film ever, making Grandma an especially fitting dramedy to close out August with. Writer/Director Paul Weitz has made a wise film about mothers and daughters that empowers women everywhere. It additionally empowers homosexuals everywhere, which is only made more relevant due to the recent legalization of same-sex marriage. The film is a clear indication that we’re progressing as a society and becoming more open-minded. As a result, we’re getting a lot more relatable, complex, and multi-layered characters.
Lily Tomlin has been doing steady work as a character actress and comedian for decades, most recently reuniting with Jane Fonda in Netflix’s Grace and Frankie. She was tailor-made to play Elle, a mother and grandmother who is never afraid to say exactly what’s on her mind. Elle is a lesbian who lost the love of her life and now lives alone. Much like Annette Benning and Julianne Moore in The Kids Are Alright, Elle isn’t written as a one-note gay character with nothing else to her. The fact that she’s a homosexual is almost irrelevant as the screenplay treats Elle’s relationship with her late partner as if it were any other romantic relationship. Tomlin, who’s openly gay in real life, creates a central character who feels all too real.
Elle wasn’t the best mom to her daughter, but looks out for her granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner). One morning, Sage shows up on Elle’s doorstep and informers her that she’s pregnant. Sage plans on getting an abortion later that day, but needs 600 dollars. Since Elle doesn’t have the money to loan, the two set out on a road trip of sorts to ask for handouts. Along the way, we get some terrific supporting performances from Judy Greer as Elle’s sort of girlfriend, Lavern Cox as a loyal friend, and the incredibly underrated Sam Elliott as a former lover from a different period in Elle’s life.
Much like homosexuality, abortion has been one of the most heated and controversial subjects for eons. It’s only been in the past few years, however, that we’ve started to get movies willing to tackle this hot topic. A strong example would be last year’s Obvious Child where Jenny Slate played a woman confronted by an unwanted pregnancy. Grandma similarly addresses abortion with intelligence, heart, and even dark humor. Weitz doesn’t offer any easy answers because, let’s face it, there aren’t any. However, his film does demonstrate how powerful a family bond can be and how any young person is lucky to have a loving parental figure in their corner.
Grandma might not sound like an especially significant movie based on its title, but this is really one of the most relevant pictures of the year. It touches base on numerous timely themes, but never feels forced. Every character, interaction, and relationship comes off as natural. It goes to show how far filmmakers have come in depicting homosexuals, women, and people in general.