GRANDMA (2015)

September 3, 2015

grandma Greetings again from the darkness. Perhaps your mental picture of a grandma is the familiar form of a Norman Rockwell painting … a sweet, bespectacled little lady baking pies or knitting booties or kicking back in a rocking chair as the grandkids romp around her. If so, Lily Tomlin will jolt you into reality with her performance in this latest from writer/director Paul Weitz (About a Boy, American Pie).

The film kicks off with Elle (Ms. Tomlin) breaking up with her much younger girlfriend (Judy Greer). As with many relationship break-ups, the tone shifts quickly with an increase in ‘let’s talk about it’. Elle tosses out “You’re a footnote” as a zinger that quickly ends any hope of reconciliation. It’s an uncomfortable opening scene that aptly sets the stage for what we are going to witness over the rest of the movie … Elle has lived quite a life, but has been unable to move on since the death of her long time companion – a recurring subject throughout.

The six segments of the film are titled: Endings, Ink, Apes, The Ogre, Kids, Dragonflies. Don’t expect those descriptions to help you guess the direction of the film. Instead, it plays out like a road trip through Elle’s past … albeit with a very contemporary feel. See, her granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) shows up at the house asking to borrow $600 for an abortion. Despite her career as a poet of some notoriety, Elle is tapped out at the moment. So the two of them set out in Elle’s 1955 Dodge Royal (Ms. Tomlin’s real life car), and proceed to visit people (and hit them up for cash) who have played a role in Elle’s most interesting life.

During this journey – which all happens during a single day – the ladies cross paths with Sage’s clueless boyfriend (a miscast Nat Woolf), a transgender tattoo artist (Laverne Cox) who owes Elle the money she lent for enhancement, a small business owner (the final appearance of the late Elizabeth Pena) who is a bit more tough-minded than Elle gives her credit for, a long ago ex-husband of Elle’s (the best performance from Sam Elliott in years) who still carries heartbreak , and most bombastic of all, Elle’s daughter and Sage’s mom – a workaholic, no non-sense, Type A professional (played with vigor by Marcia Gay Harden).

Much will be made of the film treating Sage’s decision so matter-of-factly, but it makes for nice contrast to Juno, where the decision to abort an unwanted pregnancy is abruptly reversed when she’s told the baby has fingernails. This movie even offers a tip of the cap to that scene (bravo Sarah Burns), but is never preachy or heavy-handed in its dealing with Sage. It’s a young girl in a real life situation, and she is depending on her dysfunctional family to provide financial and moral support.

One might describe this as an arthouse movie with wider appeal. Lily Tomlin makes this a must-see, as do Julia Garner and Sam Elliott.  Some will avoid it due to the abortion topic, but this is much more a story of three strong women who are related to each other – even if they don’t always relate to each other.

watch the trailer:

 

 


SLOW LEARNERS (2015)

August 19, 2015

slow learners Greetings again from the darkness. One of the staples of Romantic Comedies is that the two key players are the only ones who don’t realize they are “right” for each other. This is often accomplished through one of two methods: either two characters who “despise” each other, or as characters who are “just good friends”. This little film manages to blend those two approaches … and make us laugh in the process.

The first 15 or 20 minutes of the film are packed with very sharp comedy writing and acting. Adam Pally (“Happy Endings”) plays Jeff, and Sarah Burns (“Enlightened”) plays Anne. These two misfit adults get along very well together both as co-workers and friends who quote literature at (not to) each other. Anne’s opening visit to the doctor (played by Peter Grosz of Sonic ad fame) is outright hilarious, while Adam’s book club features some real zingers from Bobby Moynihan, Gil Ozeri, and Reid Scott (“Veep”).

It’s not until Jeff and Anne make a pact to change their public personas in an effort to be “cool” and more attractive to the opposite sex that the film takes kind of a nasty – well at least unlikable – turn. Becoming alcoholic d-bags does help them experience a summer of wild escapades, but predictably, neither is especially happy. Anne picks up pointers from some trashy reality TV show called “Prisoners of Love” … a knock-off of “The Bachelor” that deals with convicts and the women who would love them.

Adding to the comedic elements are quick scenes with Cecily Strong, Catherine Reitman (daughter of Ivan) and Kate Flannery, along with a couple of sequences with Jeff’s parents (Kevin Dunn, Marceline Hugot). More interactions with the parents would have been a welcome respite from the extended d-baggery of Jeff and Anne.

Mr. Pally is a master of the deadpan delivery, while Ms. Burns can best be described as a Kristen Wiig starter kit (that’s a compliment). Co-directors Don Argott and Sheena Joyce, and co-writers Matt Serword and Peter Swords lost sight of what delivered such a strong beginning for the film, and instead focused on reminding us to “embrace the darkness” and to “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken”. Good lessons indeed, but maybe not the comedy gold mine that was expected.

watch the trailer: