REVIEW: Grandma

6 09 2015

GrandmaPaul Weitz’s “Grandma” gets underway once teenaged Sage (Julia Garner) shows up to humbly solicit funds for an abortion from Lily Tomlin’s Elle Reid, her estranged grandmother.  While Sage might be necessary to kickstart the story, there is no doubt the titular character really drives the engine of this compact road trip.  The journey is for Sage, but it is about Elle.

Weitz wrote the role of Elle for Tomlin, and the part fits like a glove.  Among the many traits of this multifaceted character, Tomlin gets to play up two qualities present in her most memorable performances: intelligence and idiosyncrasy.  Elle is a poet who peaked professionally in the ’60s and never quite found her footing again, scrapping together income to stay afloat from teaching and lecturing.

Now, widowed and still grieving the loss of her beloved partner Violet, the kooky Elle is even more stuck in the past than ever before.  She cuts up her credit cards for fun and tosses around the phrase “pod person” as if “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” were as recognizable a cultural touchstone as “X-Men.”  Sage needs the most immediate help to procure her procedure, to be sure, but Elle also requires an attitude adjustment of her own.

As she drives her vintage car around town to solicit funds – and giving Sage a boot camp in Second Wave feminism in the process – Elle has to confront the pains of her past and decide the face of her future.  Decades-old layers of resentment frequently lead to some acerbic interactions, especially with her own daughter Judy (Marcia Gay Harden).  But the brilliance of Tomlin’s performance is that she never loses track of Elle’s raw emotion or her beating heart; she and Weitz nail the balance between sardonic and sincere.  The voyage with Elle proves all too short (only 79 minutes?!), though each moment along the way feels poignant and completely fulfilling.  B+3stars





REVIEW: Admission

24 08 2013

Some movies do not fit neatly into categories.  For some, this means a refreshing streak of iconoclasm.  For others, however, it means a wavering indecision on the part of the filmmakers that can prove quite frustrating to watch.  Paul Weitz’s “Admission” is definitely more of the latter.

The film is not quite a rom-com, not quite a comedy, but also not really a drama.  It’s just a strange mix of tonal swings tied together by a story.  Despite the presence of the very funny Tina Fey and Paul Rudd, “Admission” has very little to laugh about.  And surprisingly, in spite of the loving glances they shoot each other in the film’s poster, their sexual tension remains a set of undeveloped hints.

Fey’s character is also extremely similar to the one she played in the 2008 romp “Baby Mama.”  The slightly uptight career woman experiencing regret about not settling down to have kids is quickly on its way to becoming as clichéd as Reese Witherspoon’s perfect belle having two men fight over her.  In “Admission,” she plays a strung-out Princeton admissions counselor dealing with mommy issues when a potential new admit could be the son she gave up for adoption back in college.

Even though I’m three years removed from the college admissions process, watching the Princeton committees debate the merits of applicants by reducing them to test scores and résumés still sent shivers up my spine.  It’s tough and rather disheartening to watch Portia try to fight for an unconventional candidate and face an insurmountable uphill battle the entire way.  The whole process is rather strung out and tense, and the overall mood left after the dust settles is one of depression.

By the end, “Admission” decides it most wants to be a drama after all.  And it actually does produce a decent conclusion, one that satisfies by not coming to any neat and tidy answers.  Because that’s what life is – anything but easy (just like getting into Princeton, apparently).  Better the film come to this tough realization than make us sit through a clichéd one that we’ve already seen in more defined and self-assured movies.  B-2stars





REVIEW: Being Flynn

23 12 2012

My review of “Being Flynn” might read more like an obituary, and that’s fairly intentional.  I don’t understand, but the Weitz brothers appear to have disassociated themselves entirely with comedy.  They directed the riotous original “American Pie” in 1999, a high the series has yet to top.

And then they moved into the realm of dramedy, a very tough high-wire act to pull off, with “About a Boy” in 2002.  It earned them both Oscar nominations for their script, and the taste of glory for doing something remotely serious seems to have infected and corrupted them.  Last year, Chris Weitz released the dismal and self-righteous illegal immigration drama “A Better Life.”

Now, we’ve lost Paul Weitz with “Being Flynn,” a dramatic with absolutely no dramatic pull.  I don’t think I engaged with the film at all over the course of its 102 minutes – and this movie has Robert DeNiro.  As a writer inflated off his own self-worth, DeNiro is fine because he finally gives himself something to work with – not just another “Fockers” movie or a bit part in “New Year’s Eve.”

I gave the film about 20 minutes or so to engage me, and when it couldn’t manage to draw me in, I decided to only minimally follow the plot.  There are some nice father-son dynamics going on, but they are nothing particularly remarkable.  And I’m also inclined to hate it because I think Paul Dano all but ruins every movie he’s in.  Hack is a strong word … but I almost want to use it.

At least Weitz could have tailored the film towards DeNiro’s to make it play better.  Because when I watched it, I was far more proud of all the laundry I did during its runtime than anything I saw on the screen.

So come home to comedy, Weitz Brothers!  In case you hadn’t noticed, it needs you now more than ever.  C-1halfstars