The fabulous Lily Tomlin finally gets the lead role she deserves in this smart, engaging comedy-drama. Like her title character, the film itself refuses to play nice, tackling big issues like abortion and the strain between mothers and daughters without ever simplifying the topics or the people involved. The plot may feel a bit contrived, and the entire movie rather lightweight, but it's thoroughly entertaining. And the subtle approach to the big themes gives it a strong kick.
Tomlin plays Elle, a mature woman who has just broken up with her girlfriend Olivia (Judy Greer) for no real reason. Then her young granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) turns up asking for money to terminate her pregnancy. Elle doesn't have the cash, but offers to help her find it, so they head off into Los Angeles in her rattling 1955 Dodge, visiting the unborn baby's stoner father (Nat Wolff) and some of Elle's colourful old friends (Elizabeth Pena, Laverne Cox and Sam Elliott). But both Elle and Sage are terrified that they might ultimately need to get in contact with Sage's workaholic mother Judy (Marcia Gay Harden), the daughter Elle never knew how to talk to.
The layers of mother-daughter interaction in this film are fascinating, and played with riotously jagged chemistry by the gifted cast. Tomlin punches every witty one-liner perfectly, capturing Elle's life-loving spirit and also her weary exhaustion at the way the world keeps changing around her. Tomlin finds terrific angles in each of Elle's relationships, drawing out Garner's wide-eyed yearning, Greer's steeliness and Harden's professional bluster. Each of the side roles feels like a fully formed person with a life of his or her own, which gives context to the humour and makes the entire film feel more weighty and meaningful.
Continue reading: Grandma Review
We generally expect more wacky humour from Fey and Rudd than this comedy, which is packed with perhaps too-smart dialog and a lot of warm sentiment. It's an odd mix, looking for jokes in gender roles and higher education, while also finding dramatic and romantic moments along the way. But in the end, the engaging actors make it worth a look.
Fey plays Portia, an admissions officer at the prestigious Princeton University, who's in competition with her office rival (Reuben) for a big promotion as their boss (Shawn) gets ready to retire. Unhelpfully, Portia's long-term boyfriend (Sheen) chooses this moment to leave her. Diving into her job, she visits a progressive high school where the director John (Rudd) is trying a bit too hard to get her to consider unconventionally gifted student Jeremiah (Wolff) for admission to Princeton. Then John tells Portia that he thinks Jeremiah is the son she gave up for adoption 18 years earlier. Meanwhile, Portia's aggressive feminist mother (the superb Tomlin) brings up even more past issues she's never quite dealt with.
The way the screenplay piles all of this on Portia at the same time is more than a little contrived, but Fey juggles it effortlessly, throwing hilariously intelligent one-liners around even in the more intensely serious scenes. Opposite her, Rudd is more understated than usual, and also creates a strongly defined character as a rootless wanderer who just wants to help make the world a better place, but needs to pay more attention to his adopted Ugandan son (Spears). Yes, screenwriter Kroner throws in every variety of parent-child issues too.
Continue reading: Admission Review
Whatever else may be said, this film is the work of consummate professionals, and that doesn't mean it's soulless but competent hackwork. Writer/director Paul Weitz showed with his wonderful, glowing adaptation of Nick Hornby's About a Boy that he could tell heartwarming stories that didn't insult the mind and could inject just enough acidity into a romance to keep a movie from flopping into a messy, Love, Actually-style mess. The directing and writing here are superbly crisp, and one really couldn't ask for better performances, both from the stars and supporting cast.
Continue reading: In Good Company Review
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