Two very different, but also surprisingly similar, generations of women, one very old car, a limited Rolodex of contacts, and a limited amount of gas are all you need for this road trip. On the search for $600 for an abortion, each character finds out more about themselves, their past and even what they want for their future.
Grandma boasts a strong, female ensemble cast that is as diverse as it is talented. Laverne Cox and Judy Greer are just a few of the great actresses in this film. This was also one of the last films that the late Elizabeth Peña was in, and she plays a coffee shop owner who is ready for a rumble anytime. Julia Garner’s character is meant to represent the fading of the feminist ideals that Tomlin’s generation fought for. This becomes obvious when the only Mystique (feminine or otherwise) that Garner’s character knows is the one from the X-Men. Ironically enough, Mystique from X-Men is a complex feminist character in her own way, but you’ll have to read the comics to get more on that. Marcia Gay Harden’s character is meant to portray the feminist extreme, where you cut men out of your life completely and focus solely on self-sufficiency and career advancement. Both are meant to show the extremes and how one is the symptom of the other, with Harden’s character being too busy to instill the ideals she grew up with.
Lily Tomlin’s character shows the perfect contrast of maturity and immaturity for someone her age. She barrels through the stereotypes of the “graceful grandmother” that is supposed to be nurturing, emotionally and financially stable, and baking cookies at home and knitting. Instead, she has the emotional and financial stability of a college student. She also rather get baked than bake cookies, and although she might not knit, she is always ready to hit (or get hit). She shatters the notion that age breeds docility and that she is not allowed to enjoy a life full of fun, adventure and even an active sex life. We’ve seen the “rebel grandma” before, but never quite played with such force and ease as Tomlin has showed us. Along with her performance earlier this year in Grace and Frankie, she has proven that she still commands the presence, skill, and comedic timing to deliver a more than compelling performance as the lead character. Part of the great performance is Tomlin’s natural talent, but you can’t ignore the undeniable skill of writer/director Paul Weitz.
Even today, the subject of abortion is still a sensitive one depending on who you talk to, but decades ago it was basically considered taboo. Weitz finds the right balance between respect on the subject while maintaining the contemporary view that it is the woman’s choice either way. Along with the humor and the buddy road trip feel of the film as they scramble to get money for an abortion, there is also a deep sadness. The film deals not only with loss, but also of losing yourself and trying to recover. There is also the revelation that dwelling on the past and digging up old skeletons will lead to nothing but reoccurring heartbreak.
Grandma is a delight, and not just because the talented cast and a magnificent performance by Lily Tomlin. The core story of the film speaks to a new generation of women (and men) that may have forgotten about the struggle for gender equality, even though the struggle is one still being fought today. The topic of gender equality, as well as each of our respective grandmothers, is one that requires/deserves frequent visits from us.
RATING: ★★★★★★★★ (8/10 stars)