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Grandma Blu-ray Review

Grandma (2015) movie poster Grandma

Theatrical Release: August 21, 2015 / Running Time: 79 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Paul Weitz

Cast: Lily Tomlin (Elle Reed), Julia Garner (Sage Reed), Marcia Gay Harden (Judy Reed), Judy Greer (Olivia), Laverne Cox (Deathy), Elizabeth Peña (Carla), Sarah Burns (Protestor), Colleen Camp (Bonobo Customer), Lauren Tom (Doctor), Judy Geeson (Francesca), Frank Collison (Mike), Sam Elliott (Karl), John Cho (Chau), Nat Wolff (Cam), Mo Aboul-Zelof (Ian), Meg Crosbie (Protestor Girl)

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2015 marked the fortieth anniversary of Lily Tomlin's big screen debut in Robert Altman's Nashville. That performance earned Tomlin an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. It remains her only nod from the Academy,
but she's probably never come closer to getting a second nomination than this year. After all, her turn in the titular role of Paul Weitz's Grandma drew rave reviews and nominations from the Golden Globes, Critics Choice, and Gotham Awards. Alas, Grandma is a comedy and Tomlin, who is as seasoned in the genre as any living actress, can tell you, those tend to get overlooked by the Oscars in favor of dramas.

Tomlin, who turned 76 last September, plays Elle Reed, a lesbian poet and academic who at the film's start has her relationship with Olivia (Judy Greer) fall apart. Elle harshly describes the four-month partnership as a "footnote", which it must seem like to her coming just a year and a half after a 38-year romance ended in her partner's death. After exchanging unpleasantries with Olivia, Elle gets an unexpected visit from Sage (Julia Garner), her teenaged granddaughter. Sage confides in Elle that she is pregnant and needs $630 for the abortion she is scheduled to have later that day.

"Grandma" stars Lily Tomlin as Elle Reed, a poet determined to rustle up the money needed to fund an abortion for her teenaged granddaughter (Julia Garner).

Elle doesn't have that kind of money; she has cut up her credit cards and turned them into wind chimes. But, she gets her 1955 Dodge Lancer repaired and the two women two generations apart begin trying to rustle up the needed funds. They drop in on the baby's father, a lowlife (Nat Wolff) from whom Elle scores $50 and a bag of weed. There is a visit to an indebted transgendered tattoo artist (Laverne Cox), who chips in $65. Elle tries selling some of her first edition books, which aren't nearly as valuable as she hoped.
She also pays a visit to Karl (Sam Elliott), an old flame she hasn't seen in thirty years who harbors some resentment towards her. Eventually, though, Sage and Elle have to turn to their shared biological link: Sage's mother Judy (Marcia Gay Harden), who steps off her treadmill desk and shifts around her busy work schedule to get involved.

Tomlin, a veteran of Altman films who has been more proficient in television lately, shines in a substantial lead role that makes use of her quick thinking and sharp comic timing. Her short-tempered, unfiltered heroine is a juicy role few septuagenarian actresses ever get a chance to play. She revels in the opportunity, having fun making a scene in a coffee shop and getting to share repeatedly the wisdom and bitterness of her age. Garner, on the rise after five years of supporting roles, manages to hold her own alongside the comedy legend, the Thelma to her Louise. Everyone else who shows up, from Elliott to Greer to Harden, also manages to make an impact in their limited minutes.

Sam Elliott makes a big impression in a single scene as Karl, an ex who isn't over his distant past with Elle. Judy Greer plays Olivia, the significantly younger woman Elle breaks up with at the start of the film.

Grandma is brisk. The end credits arrive 75 minutes in, which makes it one of the shorter films of last year. It doesn't need any more time than that to tell its story, avoiding lulls and staying taut as this single-day narrative unfolds.

Despite the near-universal critical acclaim, most of which singled out Tomlin's work, Grandma struggled to attract much of an audience in theaters late last summer, barely cracking the weekly top ten in the late September weekend when it eclipsed the 1,000-theater mark. It is now looking to finish just shy of $7 million domestic. Having lost to Jennifer Lawrence at the Globes, Amy Schumer at the Critics Choice, and The Diary of a Teenage Girl's Bel Powley at the Gothams, Tomlin's turn makes the jump to home video next week in separate Blu-ray and DVD editions from Sony.

Grandma (2015) Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English, French, Portuguese), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Descriptive Video Service, Thai)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, Chinese Simplified, Chinese Traditional, French, Indonesian, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: February 9, 2016
Single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50)
Suggested Retail Price: $34.99
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($26.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Grandma may be a modestly budgeted indie, but that doesn't keep it from getting one of Sony's characteristically excellent Blu-ray transfers. The 1.85:1 picture is immaculate and vibrant, while the 5.1 DTS-HD master audio shows more vitality than you might expect. Sony loads the disc with subtitles, suggesting the film has greater international appeal than you'd think (it barely screened outside of North America).

Multiple Emmy Awards are seen behind Lily Tomlin in her "Making 'Grandma'" interview. Sam Elliott gives his bicep a feel as he answers an audience member question at a Q & A next to Lily Tomlin.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's extras begin with an audio commentary by writer-director Paul Weitz and actors Lily Tomlin,
Sam Elliott, and Julia Garner. With Weitz and Tomlin leading the way, the group's flowing remarks nicely complement what's onscreen and make for an easy listen, given the film's brevity. Much insight emerges regarding the film's motivations and depictions.

On the video side, where all is encoded in HD, we start with the Blu-ray exclusive "A Family Portrait: Making Grandma" (25:15). Everyone describes how the movie came together and their appreciation for how it did.

Next up comes a Q & A (20:58) with Weitz, Tomlin, and a thankfully mustachioed Elliott that is hosted by oft-quoted critic Pete Hammond. Audience questions are printed onscreen. Topics touched upon include Tomlin's car (really hers), her and Elliott's scene, sense memories actors drawn upon, the pluses and minuses of a 19-day shoot, and Weitz's writing the script for Tomlin and pitching it to her. There's a little overlap with the featurette (and commentary), but enough different information to justify including and watching everything.

This sun-backed shot of Julia Garner and Lily Tomlin serves as Grandma's Blu-ray top menu image.

As a product of Sony Pictures Classics, Grandma get its theatrical trailer (2:06) kindly preserved.

Finally, Previews replays the disc-opening trailer loop,
promoting Infinitely Polar Bear, Irrational Man, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Truth, The Lady in the Van, and Hello My Name is Doris.

The main menu loops an excerpt of score over a static image of the two leading ladies. As always, Sony authors the disc to support bookmarks and resume unfinished playback of any kind.

The standard side-snapped keepcase is topped by a slipcover, whose awkward Blu-ray banner reflects the lack of a digital copy (and inserts of any kind) sitting across from the full-color disc art.

There is obvious and noticeable distance between Judy (Marcia Gay Harden) and her mother (Lily Tomlin) in "Grandma."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Despite some iffy subject matter, Grandma mostly appeals as a sharp and witty study of characters we rarely find in mainstream film. This release delivers the high-quality presentation and substantial extras you expect of a Sony Pictures Classics Blu-ray.

Buy Grandma from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
New to Disc: Learning to Drive • The Diary of a Teenage Girl • Our Brand Is Crisis • Love the Coopers
Lily Tomlin: Nashville • Desperate Housewives: The Complete Fifth Season • Ponyo • Admission
Marcia Gay Harden: Elsa & Fred • The Hoax • Magic in the Moonlight • Into the Wild
Judy Greer: Jeff, Who Lives at Home • The TV Set • Men, Women & Children • The Descendants
Sam Elliott: The Big Lebowski • Ghost Rider • Did You Hear About the Morgans? | Julia Garner: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Very Good Girls • The Guilt Trip • Stuck in Love

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Reviewed February 5, 2016.



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