First “Obvious Child,” now Lily Tomlin as “Grandma.” Can one be worse than the other?


By Dave Andrusko

Lily Tomlin

Lily Tomlin

You could only hope against hope that “Obvious Child,” an unrelievedly stupid “abortion comedy” would be an only child. But, of course, you knew that mixing comedy (loosely defined) with the violent act of taking an unborn child’s life would have at least one sibling.

Enter “Grandma,” another one of those films shown at the Sundance Film Festival which the critics go crazy over and to which the public is overwhelmingly indifferent.

What’s the difference between “Obvious Child” and “Grandma”?

We’re told the latter is about relationships, which is the ultimate cop-out. After all the ultimate relationship—between mother and unborn child—is sheared.

What else. Well—remember “Grandma” (“Elle Reid” played by Lily Tomlin) is getting its unveiling at Sundance Film Festival—so the primary relationship is between Tomlin, whose partner has died after which Tomlin takes up with a much younger woman, and her teenage granddaughter (“Sage” played by Julia Garner).

The plot, such as it is, can perhaps be explained by the fact that this art-house film “was kind of effortless,” Tomlin says. “We did it in 19 days, for a very low budget.”

Sage walks in and announces to Reid she is pregnant, has made an appointment for an abortion that very afternoon, but is flat-broke. After meeting the irresponsible, jerk-of-a-teenage father, “the only possible solution, of course,” writes film critic Scott Foundas,”is to take to the streets of L.A. in Elle’s vintage Dodge Royal and go door-to-door in search of the $600 Sage needs for the procedure (an amount that prompts outrage from Elle, who exclaims: ‘Where can you get a reasonably priced abortion these days?’”).

To be clear, I haven’t seen the film, but it’s probably not much of a leap to anticipate that this one-day-long, on-the-road flick will result in the crusty, tart-tongued Elle becoming a “hero”–and not just to Sage; that Elle’s daughter (who had Sage via an anonymous sperm donor) will be a jerk; and that in the end the abortion will be part of Sage’s maturation process which brings Sage and Elle a kind of closeness. interviewed Tomlin and director Paul Weitz about the film. Nothing particularly thoughtful by either party, but here is Tomlin’s response to the interviewer’s question has the “discussion” (about abortion) “gotten better?”

Well, since my earlier days, that’s a long time ago, and, my God, people barely talked about it. I mean, enlightened people might, I won’t even lay that on them.

I would say that people who were more conscious it or more aware might discuss it or make that choice or whatever, but, most people, it was a secret you know, and the subject was taboo.

I’m talking about back in the 60s and 70s, in general society, although, that’s not really the absolute thrust of this movie. It’s more about our relationships.

So, yes, I think it’s much more open, as everything is.

The “openness” about abortion is, of course, a step down the well-trod path of desensitizing people by either wearing them down by repetition; convincing them that abortion can be side-splittingly hilarious; or bringing the generations together by eliminating the future generation.

I will write about the film again after it’s available here in the states. There are some other films that are attempting to work the same alchemy on assisted-suicide which we’ll talk about as well when they are available.