It is perplexing why Lily Tomlin is not considered a lock for an Oscar nomination – her would-be first since 1975’s Nashville – for Grandma, one of the year’s best films.
This past week, Tomlin garnered a Golden Globe nomination in the Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy. It wasn’t a surprise that she earned a nomination there, due to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association having two separate categories for acting honors. She very well could win the statue but it looks like it would be her last stop along the awards trail (her only other nomination thus far was at the Gotham Awards, which was awarded to Bel Powley for The Diary of a Teenage Girl).
I’ve seen Grandma twice and found director Paul Weitz’s film delightful and charming both times, richly layered, honest and true. A lot of that has to do with Tomlin’s performance as Elle Reid, who is front and center for the quick 79-minute film. She is a one-time famous poet and scholar, who is breaking up with her much younger girlfriend (Judy Greer) at the start of the movie. Words are exchanged, mostly hurtful ones from Elle. She is tough and doesn’t need a girlfriend.
Moments later, we see a much more vulnerable side of Elle and that’s the beauty of Grandma. Elle can be vitriolic one scene and broken down the next. Her no nonsense attitude is never a front but she rarely lets anyone see her affected. She’s a human being, like anyone one of us. She has emotions and feelings and is wholly three-dimensional.
She is distracted from her break-up when her granddaughter (Julia Garner) knocks at the door asking for a specified amount of money. Elle asks why and her granddaughter informs her that she is pregnant and needs money for an abortion. They stomp the pavement trying to collect money anyway they can, which often leads into hilarious run-ins and a few that aren’t so funny. Tomlin’s scene midway through the film with Sam Elliot is worthy of Academy recognition (as well as for Elliot).
The idea of an acerbic grandmother driving around Los Angeles with her granddaughter collecting money for an abortion screams sitcom material. Instead, Weitz has made a wonderful film that allows Tomlin to shine in her first headline role in decades. A great deal of credit is due to Weitz for his screenplay but Elle feels entirely a Tomlin’s creation. With her world-weary cool and biting sense of humor, Elle seems like a person Tomlin got to know before she played her. She feels completely real.
Early on, before the awards season was even underway, Tomlin seemed like she could get a nomination for this performance. When the Independent Spirit Awards failed to nominate her – and I mean failed – she seemed doomed for the rest of the season. It’s one of the year’s best performances and I look forward to revisiting Elle and Grandma.
Your move, Academy.