Lily Tomlin represses her smarmy/cutesy sides and acts the hell out of this movie. It may seem from previews like a laugh fest with a serious side for the one-time Laugh-In star, but it really sweeps across the history of women’s struggles in the last half-century. And it does it without much preaching at all.
Tomlin plays Elle an angry-as-hell poet and lesbian mom, whose teenaged granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) is “in trouble” as people used to say. Pregnant, broke with a no good boyfriend, and afraid of her own mother, Sage needs to get $600 together for an abortion scheduled that day. Tomlin we learn is grieving her longtime partner Violet, and has just broken up with a younger lover and has problems of her own, including cash flow. Together Sage and Elle take off on a tour of people who owe Elle money, including a transgender tattoo artist and Elle’s former boyfriend (Sam Elliott) who is still seething over issues from four decades ago.
Cleverly featured in this mini-Odyssey however, are remnants of 1970s feminism, the right of a woman to exist outside male domination and, of course, the universally wounding problem of abortion rights and wrongs. Never fear, the movie doesn’t cop out to some Juno-like compromise with the problems of being a mainstream film portraying a decision that still carries the whiff of taboo about it. But neither does it breeze by the implications either. It’s not rosy and it’s not completely safe.
Tomlin is both stalwart and crazy passionate here. It reminds you of her early movie triumphs like The Late Show and A Prairie Home Companion. She’s not really that funny in this film, which may throw some fans. But she is strong enough to play a broken-hearted angry woman with a lot of past in her voice.