* * * 1/2
by Hector Mackenzie
WHAT was the last starring role you can recall a 76-year-old woman being handed?
Never mind 76: there are many fine actresses in their thirties struggling to get decent roles in an industry which has always tended to favour youth and beauty over experience and talent.
Granted, Lily Tomlin perfectly fits the age profile for the title role of Paul Weitz’s latest film. And perhaps given the feisty old so-and-so’s strength of character, we should have expected the barnstorming performance she turns in as the gran you’d be crazy to mess with.
Teenager Sage (Julia Garner) is facing an unplanned pregnancy. Terrified of her mother’s reaction, she turns to her acerbic grandmother, Elle Reid (Tomlin) for help.
We’re already been introduced to Elle in an introductory scene showing the poet breaking up with her considerably younger girlfriend, Olivia (Julia Greer). The latter is clearly super-upset but Tomlin comes across as the ultimate hard ass, describing the ditched lover as “a footnote”. The truth is somewhat less black and white as it emerges Elle has struggled to get over the death of a long-term companion.
When Sage shows up seeking $600 ahead of an evening appointment she’s already booked at an abortion clinic, she meets a non-judgmental – but broke – grandma.
So the two spend the day trying to get their hands on the cash as they drop in on old friends and flames, rattling skeletons and digging up secrets along the way.
The car that Elle and Sage use for transport is a 1955 Dodge Royal owned in real life by Tomlin (and bought back in 1975 for $1500). Delightfully, it becomes as much a character in the road movie as anyone else.
While it’s very much a vehicle for Tomlin’s talents, she’s ably supported by a colourful cast of characters, including a gravel-voiced Sam Elliott as old flame Karl, Marcia Gay Harden as the Alpha Female daughter/mother at the centre of this dysfunctional family and young Garner herself showing vulnerability with a hint of that tough edge inherited from her grandma.
Running to just 79 minutes, it proceeds at a decent clip too and doesn’t outstay its welcome. It was getting belly laughs aplenty at the IFF screening and, despite its subject matter, emerges as a perhaps unlikely feel-good flick.
“What's he gonna say, 'Sage's grandma beat me up?'” (Elle on the likely reaction of Sage’s no-good boyfriend to her ‘intervention’ with an ice hockey stick).
Who for? Anyone who appreciates the charms of people who grow old disgracefully and say exactly what is on their minds at all times.
Quick review: A politically incorrect road movie in which a grandma and granddaughter blunder through the former’s past in a desperate bid to get their hands on some quick dough.