Grandma

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You know how much we all loved seeing the legendary Bruce Dern in Nebraska? Well, this is Lily Tomlin’s Nebraska, and she’ll also get an Oscar nomination for this terrific performance.

Thanks should go to writer/director Paul Weitz (About a Boy, American Pie).

This movie is a perfect example of how you can take cliché characters and familiar road-trip tropes – and make them entertaining. You’ll be on an emotional rollercoaster, despite the film being uneven at times.

I was thinking about how horrible the Melissa McCarthy/Susan Sarandon movie Tammy was, and how Sarandon would’ve just loved a part like this (although maybe she got her fill of feminist power with her good road picture – Thelma & Louise).

Tomlin plays Elle, a poet that had a small degree of fame and published novels. She makes her money lecturing at colleges. She’s grieving the death of her soulmate Vi, and takes out her bitterness early in the film as she dumps a young lover (Judy Greer).

Soon after that, another young woman (Julia Garner) shows up at her door. It’s her teenage granddaughter Sage. She’s pregnant and wants to borrow money for an abortion has scheduled later in the day.

Elle is broke, and since she’s just made a few art pieces out of her cut up credit cards, they’re on the road to get some cash. Elle’s daughter Judy (Marcia Gay Harden) is a lawyer, and is loaded – but they obviously can’t go to her.

Elle gets her vintage ‘50s car up and running, and we get a few quirky encounters with various friends. Some will find those moments contrived and just a little pat, but they all worked for me.

We get to meet the boyfriend (Nat Wolff of Paper Towns and The Fault in Our Stars) that knocked Sage up. Elle is soon knocking him up…upside the head with a hockey stick.

The women pay a visit to tattoo artist Deathy (Laverne Cox). It wasn’t as over-the-top as she could’ve been. We see these women had a nice friendship, even if it means you can’t collect on a past debt.

When Elle decides to sell some valuable 1st edition books to a lesbian coffee shop owner, your heart will break if you recognize who it is – Elizabeth Pena in perhaps her last role.

And speaking of heartbreak, things get a lot more serious when they show up at an ex-lovers house. This one is male (Sam Elliott), and he obviously still has feelings for Elle. The way unresolved issues resurface is so painful. It’s rare that a movie can show a heartbroken character that illicit our sympathies this powerfully.

The movie Juno was overly praised (it even won a screenwriting Oscar). One of the many flawed scenes in Juno involves the girls protesting outside an abortion clinic. This film shows how to properly do that, combining humor and shock.

It also shows how you can have three generations of women, all with very different characters, and they can carry a movie. Sure, the Harden character is the caricature working woman that could’ve been toned down a bit. And truth be told, Tomlin’s character should’ve been toned down a tad, too. She’s so amazing in the role, it’s easy to let some of the missteps slide (for example, I don’t buy her character saying the things she said to somebody during a break-up).

Tomlin also brings a lot of elements from a few other characters she’s played over the years, but since it’s her first starring role in over 25 years – who cares.

Often in movies, audiences will sniffle and cry during the obvious moments. In this film, I lost it during a scene I doubt anybody else will.

It’s late in the movie and Elle is apologizing for some of the harsh things she said earlier. We feel so bad that she’s lost the love of her life, and is possibly ruining a new relationship – and she just seems so vulnerable.

Tomlin conveyed a hipness that was needed for this character (I kept thinking of poet/singer Patti Smith). She was intelligent, sad, grouchy. It’s a character study that was a joy to watch.

When somebody tells her she has “anger problems,” she responds, “No, I have asshole problems. When people are assholes, I get angry.”

I now have a response for the next person that gets mad at me when I tell them to stop talking during a movie.

This gets 3 ½ stars out of 5, and it’s going to snag a few Oscar nominations at the end of the year.

 

 

 

 

 

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