Netflix UK film review: Grandma
Ivan Radford | On 05, Apr 2016
Director: Paul Weitz
Cast: Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Marcia Gay Harden
Watch Grandma online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / TalkTalk Box Office / Rakuten TV / Google Play
“Where can you get a reasonably priced abortion in this town?” That’s the kind of grandmotherly advice you can expect from Elle (Lily Tomlin). 76 years of age, she’s not afraid to say what she thinks – even in sweetest of situations. So when her granddaughter, Sage, turns up pregnant on her doorstep, she’s as harsh as she is helpful.
What follows is an 80-minute jaunt around town, as the pair try to raise the funds for an abortion. It’s funny, it’s feisty and surprisingly feel-good.
Of course, even the foul-mouthed granny has become something of a familiar sight over the years, but it’s the incredible performance by Lily Tomlin that makes it seem real. The veteran is joyously acerbic, firing out insults with a sharp tongue that you never see coming. If life gives you lemons, give them to Lily Tomlin and she’ll squeeze every bitter drop out of them: she’s sour, cantankerous and constantly purses his lips like she’s just smelled rotten fish.
Tomlin’s achievement, though, is to bring out the emotion behind that amusing anger: she’s not just entertaining; she’s believable. As we rake up old skeletons from her past, she gets worse with every encounter. She dismisses her ex, Olivia (a wonderfully sincere Judy Greer), and, in one of the movie’s stand-out scenes, bruises a former partner (played with hindsight turned up to 11 by the gravelly Sam Elliott) by parachuting back into his life.
Paul Weitz’s seemingly slight script, meanwhile, is deceptively bold: behind the spiky humour lies a frank tribute to the right of women to decide whether to keep a baby – a subject that is rarely discussed in detail by movies and even more rarely in such tender, sympathetic and funny ways. (This would make an excellent double-bill with Jenny Slate’s Obvious Child.) Throughout, Tomlin’s interactions with Sage confirm Julia Garner every bit the star that broke out in Electrick Children. Garner’s innocence, shock and admiration bring out Elle’s gentle side, without ever making her seem nice. No matter how much bonding goes on, Tomlin is resolutely horrible: the kind of woman who’d beat a boy up with a hockey stick without giving it a second thought. “You need to be able to say ‘screw you’ sometimes,” she advises her young ward. It’s not just being cruel to be kind: Grandma understands that sometimes in life, they’re exactly the same thing.
Grandma is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.