When I was in 7th grade, I asked Ghia, my grandmother, a seamstress, to make me a something different for class night. “Ghia, I no wanno wear white!” So my Ghia sewed up a dress from fabric full of flowers against a backdrop of pink. Imagine my mother’s shock when she had to plant her daughter within a garden of classmates wearing the required white dresses! This is what grandmothers do: they do undercover things for their granddaughters and keep secrets from mothers! What is more, they do not give a rat’s patooty for the consequences! No matter what they are called in any language, Nana, Abuela, Nai-Nai, Ba-whyee, or Ugogo, Grandma is special … yeah … in that way too. Be forewarned: Grandma can be fearless!
Lily Tomlin lives up to the tradition of grandmother in Paul Weitz’s sardonic but lovely film Grandma. Tomlin plays Elle, a poet who is moving through the grief from the loss of Vi, her lover of 30 years, and a self-imposed break-up with her younger lover, Olivia, played by Judy Greer. Enter her pregnant granddaughter, Sage (played by Julia Garner) with a request. Grandma is broke; what’s worse, she shredded all of her credit cards and turned them into wind chimes. Huh. Who cares? Grandma has friends who can loan her the money, and film director Weitz deploys the road trip to take us into the life of Grandma Elle. Oh, the scenarios we are privy to: the battle between Grandma and Sage’s boyfriend Cam, played by Nat Wolff. There’s the trip to a tattoo parlor ran by Deathy, played by Laverne Cox; a coffee house wherein Grandma expresses her loud displeasure that it used to be an abortion clinic. The proprietor is none-too-pleased!
The most poignant stop on the way, however, is the visit to Karl, Grandma’s former husband with whom she lived on a boat. Ahhhh …. The Halcyon days of the flower child 60s! Sam Elliott who plays Karl, delivers a touching performance as he forces Elle to deal with the decision she made about their child without consulting him.
A deeper analysis reveals that Grandma is a road trip through the women’s liberation movement and its socio-cultural and political meaning that may be lost on the millennial generation of young men and women. Weitz manages a safe distance from the “don’t you young people get it?” as he allows Tomlin to just be her brilliant idiosyncratic self! She does not disappoint as she lays within the vein of the strides women of her generation made that paved the way for granddaughters such as Sage to even make choices to serve them.
Grandma plays through October 8 at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.
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