Friday, December 11, 2015

Grandma - intergenerational comedy as family squares up to loss (QFT, 11-17 Dec)

Like the feminist tomes that Elle (played by Lily Tomlin) tries to hawk to raise cash for her granddaughter’s abortion, the film Grandma is neatly split into chapters. Over six equal sections, we follow the strong-willed pair over a day as they hare about town attempting to call in loans and borrow funds from bridges that Elle burnt out (or blew up) long ago.

Elle’s partner of thirty eight years Violet died eighteen months ago. The newer younger girlfriend is dismissed from Elle’s house and her life as “a footnote”. Up the hill comes a maudlin curly haired granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) who has made a decision.
“I need some help Grandma … I need $630 … I’m pregnant”

With Elle’s credit card now swirling in the breeze as part of a wind chime, the petulant pair have barely a bean to their names.

In simple terms this is an abortion road trip, though certainly not a film that glorifies or celebrates the heartbreak at its centre. Grandma nothing like Juno, but it doesn’t shirk from the “Am I going to hell?” doubts.

She’s a grandmother who sure knows how to ask good questions, and holds no punches. But with young Sage reaching out – past her mother – for help, Elle jump starts Vi’s 1955 Dodge Royal with its heavy doors in a bid to find the cash before the medical appointment that’s already been booked for that evening.

Underneath Elle’s misanthropic bluster and temper is a woman who cares deeply about the people around her, even those she seems to reject. Quite late on we meet Sage’s mother/Elle’s daughter (Marcia Gay Harden) in scenes that had the preview screening guffawing in laughter.

By the film’s end we see three generations of women in the one family squaring up to each other. Each generation has lost a child. Out of tragedy perhaps there be some reconciliation and understanding.

Grandma isn’t a neatly polished production. The only sequence where the camera is locked off and steady is when it’s attached to the side of the car. Otherwise, every shot jiggles and wobbles, sometimes even swinging around rather than smoothly panning or cutting to a different point of view.

Just 79 minutes long, Paul Weitz’s low-budget Grandma is a good length. Nothing is rushed; nothing is padded. The story is told and then the film ends. Unsentimental yet light. Though gags about periods and condoms seem raw when faced with the serious backdrop of Sage’s decision.

You can catch Grandma in the Queen’s Film Theatre between 11 and 17 December as well as some Moviehouse cinemas.

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