Review: ‘Grandma’- Tomlin dazzles

In taking a look at Lily Tomlin’s career, I was astounded to learn that she had only been nominated for an Academy Award one time. If you take a second and account for all of the great films she has been in over the span of her time in show business, one time just doesn’t seem right. Well, baring a catastrophic failure in the voting process, Lily Tomlin will receive her second nomination for acting’s greatest honor for her work in the film Grandma.

In Grandma, the 76 year-old Tomlin plays a poetry writing, weed- smoking, credit-card cutting, bohemian with a cunning wit and insistence to share exactly what’s on her mind no matter who she ticks off. Not many could pull off this role and do so with a tinge of humor, heartfelt poignancy, and even kindness but Tomlin is in her element here. The role would appear to be perfect for Tomlin as if it was written with her in mind (according to Director Paul Weitz it was).

It’s not every grandma that would be willing to go on a road-trip, with her teen granddaughter in tow, hitting up old friends and lovers for money to help pay for the young woman’s abortion. Grandma is not about the morality of abortion but more about the empowerment of women of all ages and beliefs. You would think with how perfect this role is for Tomlin that she somehow had a hand in writing it but it was Paul Weitz who crafted a flawed person who’s acerbic tone seems to always get in the way. Elle (Tomlin) is foul mouthed, has a horrific temper, and has not an ounce of forgiveness in her, and yet this movie centers around forgiveness. Elle summed up her character perfectly when she said, “I like being old because young people are stupid.”

You are lead to believe in the beginning that this movie is going to be about Sage (Julia Garner) and her journey through dealing with a terrible moment in her life. In reality, the only journey we are witness to is the one Elle (Tomlin) takes through memory lane as she searches for the money to help her granddaughter. Whether it’s the apologies that are in order for Elle’s ex played by Sam Elliot or for the daughter (Marcia Gay Harden) whom she hardly ever speaks to, or to the girlfriend (Judy Greer) she just broke up with- the life lessons in Grandma are valuable and authentic.

Despite her curmudgeonly ways, Elle (Tomlin) is the type of women who will do whatever it takes to help her family, even it means whacking a teen boy with a hockey stick in a sensitive area or taking a punch from a 5th grader. The realism in this film is such that it was as if I was watching a family drama unfold in my neighborhood.

Grandma is a crowning moment for Lily Tomlin’s career. I can’t say that the other actors in this film did anything special. If anything, they were just pieces in Tomlin’s symphony of acting brilliance. One of the great things about seeing the quantity of movies that I get to see (and believe me … I see a great quantity), is that when you see an actor’s shining moment it’s obvious. I remember last November watching Julianne Moore in Still Alice, and knowing from that moment that she was going to be at least nominated if not win an Academy Award for her portrayal of Alice. Today, history repeats itself as I know the Lily Tomlin will at least get an Oscar nomination for this film. The Academy rewards brilliance and Tomlin illuminated the screen in this role.

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Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
I'm a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and have been doing reviews for many years. My views on film are often heard in markets such as Atlanta, Houston, and satellite radio. My wife often tolerates my obsession for all things film related and two sons are at an age now where 'Trolls' is way cooler than dad. Follow me on twitter @mrsingleton.