Lily Tomlin: Not Your Everyday ‘Grandma’

Lily Tomlin as Elle in 'Grandma'

Photo by Glen Wilson, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Paul Weitz can’t and won’t be pigeonholed, as writer or director. His credits range from American Pie and Nutty Professor II: The Klumps to About a Boy and In Good Company. His latest effort debuted to great response earlier this year at South by Southwest, an ideal showcase for this indie drama. Grandma offers Lily Tomlin a juicy leading role and audiences a satisfying experience on a modest scale.

What really makes it work is Weitz’s attention to detail in delineating his characters and his keen eye for casting. Every part matters to him; even actors who have just a few lines manage to leave an impression, among them Laverne Cox and the late Elizabeth Peña.

Julia Garner in Grandma

Photo by Glen Wilson – Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Julia Garner plays a teenager who shows up at her grandmother’s house one morning in need of money for an abortion that she’s already scheduled for that afternoon. Unwilling to face her uptight mother, she turns instead to Tomlin, a progressive woman who is mourning the loss of her longtime partner. The story unfolds over the course of that eventful day. Tomlin’s character is strident and off-putting at times, but as the film progresses we come to understand the events that have shaped her over many years’ time. With understanding comes empathy.

I don’t know if Weitz wrote his screenplay with Lily Tomlin in mind, but it’s a perfect fit. Surrounded by talented costars including Judy Greer, Marcia Gay Harden, and in one heartbreaking scene, Sam Elliott. Tomlin makes the most of this opportunity. Grandma may be a small movie but it’s a good one.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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May 2024