Plot: What’s it about?
I’m not really sure how to start this review. I guess there are a lot of ways I could go with this – focus on writer and director Paul Weitz. I could say a few things about Lily Tomlin or take the road less traveled and comment on the subject matter of abortion. I won’t do the latter, I’ll leave that out of the equation. Ok, I’ll go the Paul Weitz route. I remember back in 1999 all the buzz about a little movie called American Pie. You know, the one that was supposed to be a raunchy sex comedy that actually turned out to have a heart? Yeah, that one. Oh it’s also spawned three sequels and a few spinoffs. I’d say that whoever came up with the idea for the movie is probably doing pretty well right now, financially-speaking. A few years later, I recall watching a movie called About a Boy. It starred Hugh Grant and a then fairly unknown Nicholas Hoult. I loved it and it’s one I watch about once a year. When I received the press release for Grandma, I just scanned it. Paul Weitz wrote and directed it. Starring Lily Tomlin. Wait…what? Lily Tomlin? The woman from Nashville and 9 to 5? Ok, say no more – I’m in.
Tomlin stars as Elle, an aged poet who has lost the love of her life a couple years ago. She’s in the midst of breaking up with her current lover or four months. Elle gets a surprise visit from her granddaughter, Sage (Julia Garner) who announces that she’s pregnant and needs her grandmother’s help scraping up some cash to pay for an abortion. Both Elle and Sage have issues with the mother/daughter – Judy (Marcia Gay Harden) and this forces the two to head out in search of some funds. This is a lot more difficult than it needs to be, as Elle has recently paid off all of her bills and cut up her credit cards in a sign of liberation. After some moderate success through a tour of former lovers and friends, the duo finally have no option but to ask Judy for help.
There are some odds and ends that happen in the film, but I’ll leave those as a surprise to the viewer. I was pretty impressed with the film and it’s obvious that Paul Weitz hasn’t lost his touch when it comes to comedy and humor. As I said in the introductory paragraph, I won’t comment on the subject matter of the movie. I’d read a few reviews online and the comments section was plagued with right-to-lifer’s and how much of a sin it is to have an abortion (there’s a funny scene in the movie which illustrates it as well) and so forth. What’s probably the most impressive is Lily Tomlin’s performance. You’d think that a 75 year-old actress wouldn’t have much to prove, but she probably turns in one of her best performances as Elle. She’s so laid back and matter of fact with her views on life. If you’re looking for a film parallel, think of Kathy Bates in Fried Green Tomatoes. Touching and even a bit controversial, I really enjoyed Grandma and wish that Tomlin would have gotten a Best Actress nod. She did get a Golden Globe nomination, so there’s some solace in that.
Video: How’s it look?
According to the IMDb, the budget for this film was a mere $600,000 and it was shot in 17 days. I mention this because this is a obviously a very low budget film. Fifteen to twenty years ago a low budget film was, to me, a very poor-looking film in regard to quality. Those days are gone. The 1.85:1 AVC HD image looks flawless. A few of the scenes look a tad bit washed out, hence the “near perfect” rating, but I’ve never seen so much depth and clarity in a “low budget” film in recent memory. Granted looking at Sam Elliott’s facial hair or creases in his neck line might not be the best thing to see, but it’s a testament to how crystal clear the film looks. Contrast, as mentioned above, is a bit off in a few scenes – they appear a tad bit flat. Still when looking at the blonde curls of Julia Garner, I think even Shirley Temple herself would be envious. I think we’re past the days of a lower budget film looking and sounding as such and if this is any indication, I’m all for it.
Audio: How’s it sound?
I’m quite certain that if this movie “wanted” to sound good, it could. But Grandma is a dialogue-driven film if there ever was one. Tomlin’s midwestern accent drives the center channel and we don’t really get much in terms of surround or ambient effects. I think the highlight of the movie, audio wise, is when the car starts to rev up. Yep, that’s about it. That doesn’t mean that the film sounds bad by any means, it just isn’t one you’d look to for sound pouring out of each and every channel.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- A Family Portrait: The Making of Grandma – Interviews with the cast and crew of the film reflect on it, offer praise to writer/director Paul Weitz as well as some behind the scenes footage. The featurette, which runs around 20 minutes, offers up a bit more than the standard EPK and manages to squeeze in a lot of information than most.
- Q&A with Lily Tomlin, Sam Elliott, and director Paul Weitz – This kind of a “live” version of the above as two of the stars of the film (Tomlin and Elliott) go back and forth with Weitz. It’s an interesting segment, for sure, and we learn a bit more about the history of the film.
- Audio Commentary – Lily Tomlin, Sam Elliott, Julia Garner and Paul Weitz combine for a nice little track. If you’ve watched the above two segments first, there is a lot of repetitive information here, but for fans of the film this is a great inclusion. It’s also not that much of an investment, time wise, since the movie is just shy of 80 minutes.
- Theatrical Trailer
The Bottom Line
Though the subject matter might be a bit shocking to some, I found the performances in Grandma very engaging. It’s nice to see actors that are getting on in years and who have no need for the notoriety or money to still take risks and do movies like this. The Blu-ray has a nice assortment of extras that really add to the allure of the film and the overall package.