Saturday, September 19, 2015

Grandma (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Director Paul Weitz (Admission) and comic actor Lily Tomlin have a soaring hit on their hands with "Grandma," a genuinely funny character study with a heady dose of biting humor.

Tomlin plays Ellie Reid, a respected poet who  has gone a shade sour, eaten up by happenstance and life's bitters, which have made a highball hard to swallow. Reid has just broken up with her girlfriend Olivia (Judy Greer) and is singed with hurt, despite putting up a callous front.

Enter her granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) who is just pregnant with no where to turn.

The film is a spare, crackling and pointed portrait of a friendship. It does not squander its energies with the use of laughable montages, music or exposition. Instead, it goes right to the heart and gives its gusto to these two characters who are increasingly compelling as the story progresses.

Tomlin has never been better. Her role as Ellie is as freewheeling and irreverent as anything penned by Larry David from "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Better still, she is no urban send up. She has the persona of a genuine bohemian with her leather jacket, cinder black eyes and stern face. Ellie is obsessed that the literary arts are no longer held in as high esteem as they once were and more disheartening still, young people do not read.

Julia Garner is quirky and convincing as the young relative who gives and attacks as much as she gets. There are many funny scenes, but most of the riotous material comes from Tomlin's dialogue which is as unapologetic as it is irreverent.

This is a film that does not resort to silly jokes, pratfalls, aping faces or bathroom humor to get its jokes, but mere behavior. There is no need for a catchy ear-candy score. This film is just as it should be, sharp and simple: a story about a grandmother and grandchild which echoes the naturalist character films of the 1970s from "Harold & Maude" on down.

Sam Elliott has another solid outing as Ellie's jilted love while Laverne Cox is her catty confidant and Marcia Gay Harding is Sage's ultra controlling mother.

This film deserves even more credit for retaining its air of mystery and surprise throughout. Ellie is very much a woman on the run who pines for escape; life has left her beaten and bereft. Though a shared goal, Ellie not only recognizes the charm of today's generation, but also accepts her own joyful volatility.

Bouncy, refreshing and tart in joy, "Grandma" is as existential as it is effervescent. Best of all, it doubles both as a poignant sketch of two people thriving in a dilemma and a laugh out loud comedy.

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