Grandma is a movie good in every way except for being great. This low-key tale of a grandmother attempting to help her granddaughter is simple and sweet but maybe a bit too simple to stick around. Which probably explains it’s short running time.
That is not an outright criticism. There is a place in the film world for pleasant, competent diversions. Grandma is one of these, but made more interesting than your average indie by Lily Tomlin’s fun performance and one stand out sequence.
Elle Reid (Lily Tomlin) is an aging poet, past her prime in both writing and romance, in the midst of breaking up with a younger woman for reasons yet unknown. Her granddaughter (Julie Garner) arrives, sheepishly requesting money for an abortion. Elle doesn’t have it but knows a few places they might be able to get it.
Off they go on a journey through Elle’s present and past. The requisite lessons are learned during the way, but writer/director Paul Weitz is smart enough to not belabor the points. He largely stays out of the way and lets the actors (mostly Lily Tomlin) carry the film.
But that lack of style and substance is what makes the film feel very straightforward. Everything works well but overall the film is nothing new. Pleasant, but a bit pedestrian.
Lily Tomlin has been praised, and deservedly so. Elle is a great character. Rambunctious and in your face with concealed vulnerability. Without her, and without her stellar scene with Sam Elliot, the film would be forgettable.
That scene is easily the highlight. It stands out among the other simpler scenes and makes them feel paper-thin in comparison. I found myself enjoying the journey, and after seeing that scene, yearning for something more.