Lily Tomlin latest film is set to be a real treat for lesbians.
When Sage (Julia Garner) comes to her grandma asking for $630 for an abortion, which she must have that day, Grandma, the celebrated poet Elle Reid (Lily Tomlin) is faced with a challenge, and not the first of the day!
Elle is broke. She’s still grieving the death of her female partner of 38 years, and when the film opens, is in the ugly process of breaking up with her much younger girlfriend (Judy Greer), a Gen X lesbian enamored of Elle’s work as much as she is of Elle, and who works in a feminist bookstore called Bonobos.
Elle, in her 70s, is overhauling her life and getting back to basics; she recently cut her credit cards up into little pieces and made a wind chime out of them.
So how can she help her granddaughter with the cash? Smart, resourceful, and more than a little eccentric, Elle takes action. She unveils her old 1955 Dodge, and takes Sage on a road trip quest, in which much female bonding occurs—with a male skeleton or two in Elle’s closet.
This is a fine film: the story is original, the dialogue acerbic and always entertaining. But the real pleasure is in watching Tomlin create the character of Elle Reid, a woman we never get to see on the big screen: an old school lesbian-feminist—outspoken, abrasive, annoyed at the banality of the modern world, from drip coffee to the creep of a boyfriend who got her granddaughter pregnant.
Elle manages to offend most of the people she meets just by speaking her mind. “You’re not a Bonobo,” she tells the butch lesbian bookstore owner with whom she has a rocky old friendship. “You’re a gorilla. A silver-back male!” There’s only one person Elle is scared of and it’s her own bossy, corporate-climbing daughter (Marcia Gay Harden). “I’ve been scared of her since she was five years old,” she admits.
While there are plenty of movies in which women sit around talking about men, we rarely get to see three generations of women interacting on important issues such as love, sex, and biology. “What is The Feminine Mystique?” asks Sage. “A character in X-Men?” Yes, this Grandma’s work is not done until she teaches her granddaughter some life lessons. Grandma passes the Bechdel test with flying colors!
Written and directed by Paul Weitz, who wrote the role of Elle specifically for Tomlin, this is a wonderful film about lesbians—and about women. Weitz does very well for a guy, too: he gets all the references to lesbian culture and the feminist movement right, while giving the character of Elle enough complexity and ambiguity to make us believe this lavender-powered poet exists, which is a good thing in this increasingly cock-eyed world. “I don’t have an anger problem,” insists Elle. “I have an asshole problem.” True, that. Highly recommended.