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 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.