Blu-ray Review: Grandma - Starring Lily Tomlin

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What an incredible comeback year Lily Tomlin enjoyed in 2015. She stars with Jane Fonda on the acclaimed Netflix series Grace and Frankie. And she starred in writer-director Paul Weitz's Grandma, one of last year's most critically acclaimed films. Each of these projects earned Tomlin a Golden Globe nomination. On February 9, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment will release Grandma on Blu-ray and DVD. It's a low-key film, one that's especially well suited to the smaller scale of the home video market.

Weitz, perhaps best known for co-directing American Pie (1999) and About a Boy (2002), has crafted a film that's a bit difficult to feel strongly about. To evoke an age-old cliche, Grandma is a "slice of life"—essentially an observational drama infused with moments of comedy. Weitz seems to consciously avoid hitting any emotional highs or lows, preferring to maintain an even—almost neutral—tone of non-judgmentalism. While it isn't solely Tomlin's show, she certainly commands the lion's share of the attention as writer Elle Reid. Elle, though a bit high and mighty in attitude, is a generally likable senior who has turned to a much younger woman, Olivia (Judy Greer), to cope with the death of her longtime partner. Her needlessly cruel breakup with Olivia (dismissing their short relationship as a "footnote") exemplifies her capacity for callous egocentrism.

What really keeps Grandma from becoming primarily a one-woman showcase is Tomlin's co-star Julia Garner, excellent in the less-showy role of Elle's granddaughter Sage. Sage turns up at Elle's door shortly after the breakup with Olivia. She needs money for an abortion. Elle isn't so much disapproving as annoyed. She's got other things on her and mind and doesn't want to be bothered, at least at first. She quickly resolves to help her find the $600 needed for the procedure. Weitz's plan becomes clear at this point: Grandma is one of the quietest, least eventful road movies ever.

Elle and Sage, already on amicable terms, learn about each other's life. Actually, it's Elle who proves far more revelatory as the duo encounter a number of mildly colorful characters (including Sam Elliot as an ex-lover of Elle's, not to mention Marcia Gay Harden as Elle's perpetually-stressed daughter—she's also Sage's mother) in their quest for funds. Elle, we learn, is willfully broke—her poetry is now obscure, and she recently decided to liberate herself from the burden of credit cards.

Grandma is easy to like, but harder to truly love. The whole thing feels a bit like a TV pilot. It introduces us to an interested cast of characters, but doesn't necessarily give any of them a satisfying arc. By the end of its brisk 79 minutes, it leaves the impression of an incomplete story. Kudos to Weitz for avoiding any temptation to indulge in over-the-top hijinks (though an encounter between Elle and a child late in the film rings false; a momentary lapse into slapstick, despite Tomlin's assertion in the special features that it was inspired by a true event). But ultimately Grandma is an amiable shaggy dog story that winds up feeling slighter than was apparently intended. 
 
Grandma BD cover (303x380).jpg Sony's Blu-ray offers a clean 1080p presentation of Tobias Datum's no-frills cinematography and a DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack (Joel P. West's folky, acoustic guitar-based score is about the only notable element of a very sedate, dialogue-driven soundscape). Special features include "A Family Portrait: The Making of Grandma," "Q&A with Lily Tomlin, Sam Elliot, Julia Garner, Paul Weitz," and audio commentary with those same four participants.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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