This one’s been on my To-See list, simply because there aren’t a lot of star vehicles for actresses of a certain age and I like to support them when they happen. Besides which, Lily Tomlin is an icon. She played memorable characters in her comedy routines back in the day, and now she plays a memorable character in “Grandma.” Written by Nick Hornby and directed by Paul Weitz, it’s a slight movie – barely an hour-and-a-half long – but it offers Tomlin the chance to play a misanthropic lesbian poet whose work was once all the rage. Her partner of 30-plus years has died after a long and costly illness. Her well of creativity has pretty much dried up. She has no money (and, in fact, has cut up all her credit cards and made a mobile out of them). And her ambitious, over-caffeinated daughter (Marcia Gay Harden) doesn’t speak to her.
One day her granddaughter shows up asking for money to pay for an abortion, and she and Tomlin set out on a 24-hour road trip of sorts to try to come up with the money. Among the old friends Tomlin hits up for the cash is an old boyfriend, played by Sam Elliott. As much attention as Tomlin is rightfully getting for “Grandma,” the movie also gives us a Sam Elliott we haven’t seen before. He’s vulnerable. He’s hurt. He’s not the strictly macho guy we’re used to seeing, and his scene is powerful stuff.
I can’t say “Grandma” stayed with me – the story is thin, as I said, and quite predictable – but Tomlin fits right into her role, and her voice and image are hard to forget. She may just be the sentimental favorite at Oscar time.