“Grandma” is an incredible film about a 70-year-old lesbian poet and her pregnant teen grandaughter

Lily Tomlin has been a working actor for close to 50 years and within that time, has played hundreds of different characters. In the new film Grandma, opening this Friday, she’s finally playing one that is the most like her.

Grandma centers on Lily as Elle, a poet who is still mourning the loss of her long-term partner, Violet. It’s been a few years and she’s moved on with a not-serious but younger girlfriend, Olivia, (Judy Greer). The opening scene has Elle kicking Olivia out, telling her, cruelly, she was just a “footnote” in her life. 

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“Looking at it from the outside, I wouldn’t say that I was like Elle but I must be a great deal like Elle because it was so easy; it was so fluid, it was so natural,” Lily said. “I mean, there are things you have to transpose yourself from something or some experience or some memory or some other person you know, but it was terribly natural to me and that was a blessing.”

Writer/director Paul Weitz (American Pie, About a Boy) specifically penned the part (and the entire film) for Lily after working with her too briefly on Admission. (Lily played a small role as Tina Fey‘s mother in the 2013 comedy.)

“Basically, I wrote the script with Lily’s voice in it and I didn’t tell her I was writing it, and so then I asked her to lunch and kind of sprung it on her. I said, ‘I’ve written this thing for you—here, will you read it?'” Paul said. “It was going to be extremely important to Lily that everything feel understandable and right, and I also knew that Lily had so much to tell me about the character—which is the case with every excellent actor—but in this case, there’s so much of the character’s experience that I was just guessing at.”

After Olivia leaves, Elle’s day takes a turn when her teenage granddaughter Sage (the enjoyable Julia Garner) comes over with a request: She’s pregnant and she needs the money to not be. Sage has made an appointment for later that day to have an abortion, and she’s hoping her grandma can give her the cash. Unfortunately, Elle has cut up her credit cards and paid off all of her debts, so she doesn’t have the $600 on hand. Together, they set off to try and find someone who does. Their first stop: Sage’s baby daddy, who is a pothead truant with no interest in Sage’s predicament. He also takes no responsibility, so Lily hits him in the balls with his own hockey stick.