|'Yes, this is Grumpy Old Men: The Womens, but it's also much, much more than that.'|
Paul Weitz - once of American Pie fame - does not appear to be the most natural source for Grandma, one of the most successful recent depictions of female relationships and the problems therein, but then stranger things have happened in Hollywood. On both writing and directing duties, and with significant help from star Lily Tomlin, Weitz' film presents a knowing, cutting, often unflinching view of daily pressures, extraordinary events and familial disharmony. Grandma is rarely anything other than a chucklesome joy; a critique with a forked, hilarious tongue.
Tomlin, who Weitz specifically wrote the part for, is on fiery, unbridled form. Weitz' script is sharp, but Tomlin has to sell some of the jokes that should have been cut ('your face looks like an armpit' is funny, but too 'stand up heckle' for this material), whilst simultaneously balancing the warmth her character needs, when teenage granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) shows up needing money for an abortion. The two actors embody the crossroads Weitz wants to talk about; one is at the point of finding out about the bitter unfairness which has led to the others firebrand world view.
Sage (Garner) and Elle (Tomlin) advance through the narrative in pursuit of the money the former needs for her abortion, the Drama heightened by the fact that Elle pursues it via calling at the door of a host of old (and sometimes current) flames and acquaintances. The vignettes that this generates could feel false, and certainly each is scientifically concocted to teach us something, but they also feel warm and genuine parts of the narrative. In isolation each segment could appear as though they make up different films (Nat Wolff's dope-smoking dropout vs Sam Elliott's smooth 'patriarch'), but together they work as a collected, considered and subtle worldview. The interaction with Elliott is fascinating, swinging backwards and forwards between whether he or Elle is at fault, without ever losing our sympathies for the protagonist. Even Wolff's character could find redemption, given what the film has to say about past ills and how we develop as the product of our own battered worlds.
That potential off screen redemption for Elliott and Wolff speaks also to how rich Grandma's world is. One of the most vivid characters, Violet, is dead at the point the film begins, but the fond recollections of her personality, of her influence on her family, lingers. It's impossible to hear of her and not think of a present or sadly departed relative, and that's a character we never meet.
At one point, Weitz has his characters considering 'what is the feminine mystique... what is the feminine mystique?' and you wonder if Grandma is his stab in the dark at an answer. It's not for him, nor arguably anyone else to say if he has found it (that's the point of mystiques), but his journey along the way feels open, occasionally on the nose accurate - about relationships between any gender - and almost always funny. Grandma is unbridled joy, with sassy spark, a major pass on the Bechdel test and a cosy seventy-nine minute run time. Yes, this is Grumpy Old Men: The Womens, but it's also much, much more than that.