A number of movies have come out over the last few years where an older actor I love has a starring role. Michael Keaton (playing an older actor) in Birdman, Sally Field in My Name is Doris and Lily Tomlin in Grandma come to mind. Grandma was my favorite of the bunch and Sam Elliott had a nice little role in it. So it’s great that Brett Haley, who wrote/directed Elliott in I’ll See You In My Dreams (Blythe Danner), is giving him a meaty, starring role here. And speaking of meat, things start off promisingly as we see Elliott doing a voice-over for a barbeque sauce. He’s got the voice that’s perfect for it; and talk about art imitating life, we hear Elliott on a number of spots currently. When he’s asked to read the copy a fifth and sixth time, with no direction, it’s amusing. Although, it did make me think of a similar scene with comedians Chris Rock and Brian Regan in Top Five, and that’s one of the problems with this movie. It gives us some interesting scenarios, with a top-notch cast, but it’s all slow and cliched.
Now, had you told me Elliott plays an aging actor that sits around getting stoned with a former co-star, and that guy is played by Nick Offerman — I’d say it was probably going to be one of the best movies of the year. Yet even those scenes petered out quickly. We get Jeremy (Offerman) telling him not to knock on his door so loudly. That’s the way cops knock, and he is dealing drugs out of his place. It’s just a shame there aren’t enough funny or profound moments between these two.
When Elliott’s character tries to reconnect with his daughter, it never quite packs the emotional punch it should. Maybe because it made me think of much better scenes in The Wrestler (Mickey Rourke and Evan Rachel Wood). This is basically a story that’s been told countless times, but watching Offerman, Elliott, and his real-life wife Katharine Ross in a few touching scenes as his ex, should be better. There’s also Laura Prepon (That ‘70s Show), as a comedian and much younger love interest. Her character is a bit too flakey to be all that interesting.
So we watch as Elliott drives around, calling his agent to ask about real acting jobs instead of voice-overs. We get close-ups of Elliott, after he’s told he has cancer. And, in a scene that was done much better in the disappointing Robert De Niro movie The Comedian…an incident he is involved in goes viral and resurrects his career.
There are some dream sequences that are intriguing. There’s also an audition scene that knocks my socks off. It’s beautifully done, touching, and feels like the way real casting directors would act towards an actor of his stature.
There’s a scene where his character is given an award, and the direction it goes is nice. It was original, and the perfect balance of praise he got from folks, and not having his character get so drunk and stoned that he makes a fool out of himself. The movie needed more moments like these. Instead, it’s a rather slow slog.
Attempts to reconcile with his daughter Lucy (Krysten Ritter) don’t feel authentic. It’s also a bit weird that she looks so similar to his new love interest. Perhaps they’re really trying to drive home the fact that he’s dating somebody much younger.
What made Grandma such a terrific movie is that, even if we had one or two cliches, it was still a blast watching Tomlin. It would certainly be nice to watch Elliott go through a series of emotions and contemplating life, but it’s not all that poetic. A character study still needs a script. It can’t just have Elliott staring out into the ocean feeling sorry for himself. Perhaps fleshing out his backstory would’ve helped. Instead, we just get a formulaic picture, but it’s one the critics will probably praise. And you can’t fault them for that. Any time you get 90 minutes of Sam Elliott, that’s not a bad thing (although my wife, mom, and I…all felt it was a lot longer).
2 stars out of 5.