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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Grandma movie review: the wisdoms of age and youth

Grandma green light

Wonderfully, aggressively feminist, a rare crossgenerational portrait of two women getting to know each other amidst a crisis. Smart and acerbically funny.
I’m “biast” (pro): love Lily Tomlin; desperate for stories about women

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Behold Lily Tomlin (Admission) as Elle, the badass grandma everyone should have. Except she is granny only to 18-year-old Sage (Julia Garner: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For), who comes to her early one gorgeous Los Angeles morning to ask for help: she needs to find six hundred dollars in the next eight hours to pay for an abortion; her appointment is at 5:45pm, her expected source of funding — her louse of a boyfriend (Nat Wolff: The Intern) fell through — and it’s weeks and weeks before another appointment is available. Elle, a poet and “unemployed academic,” is flat broke, but never fear: she used to know a clinic where they help women for free. Except, they quickly discover, that clinic is long gone (it’s now a hip coffee cafe)… and as they spend the day driving around hitting up Elle’s old friends for money they owe her, both granddaughter and grandmother get unexpected educations in feminism: Sage learns who Betty Friedan and Simone de Beauvoir are; Elle learns that some of the progress in women’s rights and autonomy she’d seen in her youth have still not been secured. Among other vital lessons for both.

Grandma, from writer-director Paul Weitz (Admission), is no political tract — Sage is actually luckier than many women in that she does have ready access to an abortion clinic; her situation could be a lot worse — but it is an aggressively feminist film, wonderfully so, a rare crossgenerational portrait of two women getting to know each other in ways they might never have if not for this crisis. Elle is confronting her past via those old friends — including a former lover (Sam Elliott: The Good Dinosaur) — and her potential future, via the new girlfriend (Judy Greer: Ant-Man) she had broken up with that morning, just before Sage arrived, and whom they run into later. Sage is all about shaping the future before her. And maybe — maybe? — they will find a new accommodation of Judy (Marcia Gay Harden: Fifty Shades of Grey), Sage’s mom and Elle’s daughter, whom they both fear (which is why they can’t ask her for the money). We hardly ever see stories like this on the big screen: Grandma is smart and acerbically funny, a beautifully observed story about women sharing their wisdoms and their follies.

first viewed during the 59th BFI London Film Festival


See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Grandma for its representation of girls and women.


green light 4 stars

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Grandma (2015)
US/Can release: Aug 21 2015
UK/Ire release: Dec 11 2105

MPAA: rated R for language and some drug use
BBFC: rated 15 (strong language, drug use)

viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • Matt Clayton

    It’s a wonderful movie. Tomlin should be in everything.

  • Imagine a movie universe in which Lily Tomlin was in high demand…

  • So glad you finally saw this.

  • Hank Graham

    Partially this is a sign of a particularly busy life, but it is also a sign of what Hollywood chooses to pay attention (and PR) to: how did this movie come to exist and I hadn’t even heard of it?

  • RogerBW

    I don’t know what announcement channels you follow. I subscribe to a bunch of youtube channels (with RSS), so I see an awful lot of trailers – very often for films I don’t hear about anywhere else.

  • I saw it back at London Film Festival, like six months ago. I just never got around to reviewing it.

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