Posted by Joel Copling on September 11, 2015

The central performance by Lily Tomlin as Elle Reid, the titular family member in "Grandma," is the thing that holds this slight, fluffy, inconsequential affair together. The movie is seventy minutes of wheel-turning to reach a foregone conclusion and a vague final shot that doesn't really seem to mean what writer/director Paul Weitz intends it to mean. In other words, there isn't much to this movie, but at least there is this performance. Tomlin, if one is interested in such trivia, has been a movie's leading lady in 27 years (and even then it was technically a co-lead), but this role proves she's still got that power (A nomination from a certain academy seems inevitable). It's just unfortunate that what surrounds this is almost intentionally aimless.

Elle is a firecracker. She's still hurting from the death of her wife and fellow mother to Judy (Marcia Gay Harden for ten minutes at the end) and from the end of a relationship to the much younger Olivia (Judy Greer, terrific as always). And now her granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) is pregnant by a boyfriend (played by Nat Wolff for two minutes) who wants nothing to do with it and needs an abortion because she's just not ready to be a mother yet (A certain faction of the politically minded in this country will have a fit at this movie, certainly). Sage is unable to pay for it, though, and Elle is broke, so they take a road trip of sorts to find the money.

The film is a road-trip dramedy taking place over the course of a single day (and not even the whole day, really, because it's all leading up to an appointment with a doctor at 5:45, if they can make it), but not a lot of this leaves any impact. Tomlin is superb at culling a lot of depth from this role, but it all seems to lie in the actress herself, rather than the role. Garner is a lovely, semi-new face, too, although Sage is a passive observer to all of the drama happening in her name. The people they meet (such as an old flame of Elle's played by Sam Elliott or a friendly tattoo artist played by Laverne Cox) don't get enough screen time to call their own. This all leads to the scene at the abortion clinic itself, which only serves to highlight how little effort was expended in exploring the effect of the abortion on Sage. "Grandma," then, exists only to showcase a fine central performance, which isn't enough justification.

Film Information

Lily Tomlin (Elle Reid), Julia Garner (Sage), Marcia Gay Harden (Judy), Judy Greer (Olivia), Laverne Cox (Deathy), Elizabeth Pena (Carla), Nat Wolff (Cam), John Cho (Chau), Sam Elliott (Karl).

Directed and written by Paul Weitz.

Rated R (language, drug use).

79 minutes.

Released in select cities on August 21, 2015.