Any film that uses the term “karma boomerang” is a film that has me on its side, and the same goes for the writer who included it. That’s what I told Paul Weitz as I was setting up for our interview on August 22, 2015. I didn’t add that I became afire with delight when one character in his film, GRANDMA, accuses the other of being solipsistic. I didn’t want him to think I was pandering.
In GRANDMA, Weitz has found a muse in co-interviewee Lily Tomlin, and one of the first things I wanted to ask them was about the particular kind of humor in the film, the sensibility of which reminded me of the humor in the original women’s movement: biting, smart, and the truth of which is impossible to refute.
We went on to talk about the way the film purposely avoids the political in its depiction of a grandmother, played by Tomlin, spending a long day trying to raise the money for her granddaughter’s abortion, how comedy can get a point across, and finished with Lily telling me about a sketch titled “Juke and Opal”, written for Richard Pryor by Tomlin’s professional partner and personal wife, Jane Wagner. The sketch was part of her second television special in 1973, and along with some brilliant observations about race relations in particular, and human nature in general, it featured one of television’s first interracial kisses (though Lily was playing a woman of color without using blackface), and had a line that has haunted me for its poignancy since I first heard it as a kid.
GRANDMA is a film about unintended consequences, karmic boomerangs, and choosing the wrong moment to cut up one’s credit cards. Tomlin plays Elle, a feminist poet with a great reputation and a limited means. Still grieving the death of her lover of 38 years, and having just broken up, badly, with her current girlfriend of four months, she is contemplating old photographs and being maudlin when her granddaughter, Sage, turns up on her doorstep needing $600 dollars for an abortion. And she needs it by 6:45 that evening. Elle’s quest for funds takes her on an odyssey of old relationships, new insights, and the unexpected tying up of loose ends. The film co-stars Marcia Gay Hardin, Julia Garner, Judy Greer, Laverne Cox, Elizabeth Pena, Nat Wolff, John Cho, and Sam Elliot as one of those loose ends. Weitz directed from his own script and his previous work includes AMERICAN PIE, ABOUT A BOY, AMERICAN DREAMZ, and BEING FLYNN. Lily Tomlin rose to fame on television’s Laugh In, creating iconic characters such as Earnestine the telephone operator and Edith Anne, the little girl with unique takes on what she sees around her. She went on win a Tony for her one-woman show, The Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe, written by her wife Jane Wagner, received the Kennedy Center honors, and the Mark Twain Prize for humor. Her film credits include NINE TO FIVE, ALL OF ME, SHORT CUTS, FLIRTING WITH DISASTER, I HEART HUCKABEES, and an Oscar™-nomination for NASHVILLE. On television, in addition to Laugh In, she was a regular on Murphy Brown, was in a memorable holiday episode of The X-Files, and can currently be seen in the Neftlix series, Grace and Frankie.
For my interview with Weitz for AMERICAN DREAMZ, click here.