Posted on August 27, 2015 at 5:50 pm

Copyright Sony 2015
Copyright Sony 2015

Lily Tomlin is cranky, feisty, tough, and utterly irresistible in this story of a grandmother who has to visit past decisions about her own life in order to help her teenage granddaughter. Tomlin plays the aptly named Elle (French for “she”), a feminist poet. Her work is respected and influential but that has not translated into financial stability. She has recently cut up her credit cards and made a wind chime out of them.

As we first see her, she is dumping her much younger girlfriend, Olivia (Judy Greer). No “it’s not you; it’s me.” No, “I’ll always remember the good times.” No lyrical meditations on love and loss. Not even any arguments or accusations. Just “It’s over. Leave.”

And then Elle’s granddaughter arrives. Her name is Sage (Julia Garner), and she has a head of fuzzy, soft curls that make her look like a dandelion. She is young and vulnerable but determined. She needs help, and it is clear that she would not be there if she had any other option. She is scheduled to have an abortion that afternoon, but she needs $630. And so Grandma and Sage set off in Elle’s clunker of a car, making desperate visits to people who might be able to help them. So we see a series of encounters, sad, angry, poignant, romantic, score-settling, each impeccably performed by an outstanding cast of actors in small scenes with deepening impact. We learn more about Elle’s life, the wrenching loss she is still mourning, the kindness and unkindness she has shown, and the way she has and has not dealt with the consequences. Standouts include Nat Wolff (“Paper Towns”) as the father, Laverne Cox as a sympathetic tattoo artist, Marcia Gay Harden as Elle’s brisk businesswoman daughter, and Sam Elliott as Elle’s ex.

Writer/director Paul Weitz (“About a Boy”) has taken a story that could be a parody of the worst nightmares of Fox News fans and made it into a very human story of love, loss, and overcoming the fear of intimacy. It is about the families we create and the perfect love we must feel for imperfect people.

Parents should know that this film has very strong and crude language, drinking, drugs, teen pregnancy, and extended discussion of abortion.

Family discussion: Why does Elle break up with Olivia? Why don’t Elle and her daughter get along? Why is the film called “Grandma” and not “Elle” or “Elle and Sage?”

If you like this, try: “The Daytrippers”

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