As time goes on, the conventional perception of the archetypal “granny”–an aging hag with a hunched back, glasses and bad hearing–continues to wane. Paul Weitz’s (usually known for more “gross-out” fare like the American Pie “saga” and The Nutty Professor II) latest film, Grandma, is a case in point of the ever-changing stereotype of how a grandma should be. To establish the bittersweet nature of time, the movie opens with a to-the-point quote from poet Eileen Myles that iterates, “Time passes. That’s for sure.” Then again, that doesn’t necessarily mean a person will soften with age.
We’re then given an abrupt introduction to Elle (Lily Tomlin) a poet–now you understand why Eileen Myles was a specific choice–in the process of cruelly dumping her much younger girlfriend, Olivia (Judy Greer), in spite of four months of the bliss that comes with being in love and sexually active. As we watch Elle be as biting and matter-of-fact as possible to the bleeding heart that is Olivia, the emotional layers of the former are peeled back as Weitz cuts to a scene of her sobbing in the shower afterward. It is at this moment that we know Elle has built a strong barrier between herself and the rest of the world. And just about the only person who can break down that barrier is her granddaughter, Sage (Julia Garner)–perhaps named as such because the narrative takes place in California. Fearing the reaction of her overbearing and judgmental mother, Judy (Marcia Gay Harden), Sage chooses to go to her grandma for confessional and financial purposes in the procurement of a hasty abortion (Juno is now the reference for all teen abortions).
Unfortunately, she picked the wrong person to rely on for any form of cash, as Elle informs her that she just spent all of her money on paying off debts and ripped up her credit cards to further prove a point. Desperate and nauseous, Sage–propelled by the urging of Elle–decides to pay a visit to the father of the would-be child, Cam (Nat Wolff). It is at this juncture that the extent of just how not average Elle is as a grandma comes to the forefront as she remains unfazed by Cam’s threat, “I will fuck you up,” ultimately prompting her to slam him in the groin with his own hockey stick.
The fierce protectiveness and devotion she feels for Sage is masked by her surly demeanor, though eventually Sage sees right through it, much in the same way that Olivia did–which is precisely why Elle had to bolt. Her fear of getting close stems from the recent loss of her longtime partner to cancer. But she’s even willing to put the pain of that aside to kiss a former male lover/her ex-husband, Karl (Sam Elliott), with the promise of him giving her the $500 they’re still missing from their $630 requirement. Unfortunately, Elle makes the mistake of telling him it’s for Sage’s termination of her pregnancy, which serves as salt in the wound of his memories of when Elle not only left him, but also got rid of their own baby without telling him.
With every resource tapped–even a tattoo artist named Deathy (Laverne Cox)–Elle and Sage finally submit to what they know they must do: go to Judy for help. As expected, her reaction is scary, livid and generally unwanted. Still, she gives Sage the money she needs and lets Elle accompany her to the clinic. Judy, calming down, decides to come later, semi-burying a hatchet with Elle that leads them to non-mushily arrange to have dinner the next day.
Of course, this doesn’t mean Elle is going to cede to the role of a pristine, doily-crocheting grandma anytime soon. She’s still a poet, after all. And with the mind of any good writer comes the voice of someone who can never truly be “old.”