Grandma opens with an end. We witness the middle and conclusion of an argument between a couple, resulting in their break up. A bad start to a very long day for Elle – a liberal, a feminist a poet and an academic – she’s also a Grandmother. As one chaotic personal problem exits, another enters. Her granddaughter arrives on her doorstep with a devastating announcement: she’s pregnant and in need of an abortion. And so begins a road movie of sorts as grandmother and granddaughter travel around town in search of the funds to pay for the procedure. Grandma divides itself into short chapters, each one introducing new faces from Elle’s past lives – disclosing more and more information about her. A fist pumping celebration of womanhood, Grandma is so very satisfying. Delicious dialogue and complex characterisation carry you through each segment in which Lily Tomlin gives a revitalising, sensational performance. Together, both women must address their own behaviour and mistakes but, particularly, their relationship with the mother/daughter who connects them. A movie about relationships, motherhood and family, raises up and celebrates all that is good, bad and ugly about being a woman. Elle is a person in mourning, making Grandma not only about sexuality and feminism but about grief and loneliness.
Alongside Tomlin and the delightful Julia Garner, there are other familiar, friendly faces who make their own humble contributions to Grandma. Judy Greer, whose frequent limitation to minor supporting roles is practically criminal, plays Elle’s younger partner – bubbling with emotion, sensitivity and frustration. Laverne Cox brings a brief spoonful of charm and sass and Marcia Gay Harden elevates everything in the film’s final third where tensions climax and deeper family issues are confronted. Grandma perfectly balances its bolshie attitude and tone with delicate transitions and heartfelt characterisations. This could easily be the work of Lena Dunham and fits in perfectly with the new voices of American independent film and television such as Aziz Ansari. It’s obvious that it is written by the same being who directed it as it’s instantly apparent that the material here matches the visual vision. Frank, and unapologetic you can’t help but be won over by the film’s honesty. Mistakes drive the narrative of Grandma, with the consequences of a young girl’s mistake forcing a stubborn lesbian to face hers. Information about Elle’s past is drip fed to us, evenly and consistently from start to finish with bucket loads of laughs to keep you smiling. As the film concludes, coming full circle – we finally understand Elle and bear witness to why she is the way she is. Short and sweet, Grandma is a joyous study of different women, different relationships and different stages of life. There is something here for everyone to relate to and even more to admire. Grandma is an uplifting eighty minute character study; unafraid of tackling sensitive issues and investigating what lies in the small cracks in the concrete road of life.
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