Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Grandma at Camera 7

A few weekends ago, my plans went catawampus so with some free time, I went down to San Jose with the express purpose of seeing a film at the Camera 7 Pruneyard.  I had never been to that multiplex before.

I had intended to see two films that evening but just missed the earlier screenings so I had to settle with the late screening of Grandma.

Grandma starring Lily Tomlin & Julia Garner; with Marcia Gay Harden, Sam Elliott & Laverne Cox; directed by Paul Weitz; (2015) - Official Website

The Camera 7 is in the Pruneyard Shopping Center - an outdoor mall that I was unfamiliar with.  The anchor tenants appear to be Marshall's, Sports Basement & Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery.  Camera 7 is located on what I consider the backside of the shopping center in between Coffee Society & Pizza My Heart.  In fact, Pizza My Heart opens up directly into the lobby of the movie theater.  Apparently, they had some water damage in the movie theater because the concession stand was closed on September 12 & still closed per their website.  I was encouraged by the cinema staff to partake of some slices of pie from Pizza My Heart.

Camera 7 is a nondescript multiplex which reminds me of some of the movie theaters from my youth in the 1980s.  It looks as though the space has been repurposed into a cinema.  The auditorium I was in looked exactly like one of the 2nd floor auditoriums in the Camera 12.

I arrived at 7:45 PM on a Saturday night & parking was tough.  There are some multistory parking garages in the back where I found a spot.  With some time to kill, I looked around.  I had an uninspiring sandwich at Coffee Society served by seemingly disinterested staff.  Despite the less than stellar food & service, the place was quite crowded.  It seems to be the type of place where college students hold their study groups.

All told, the trip wasn't worth it.  I went mainly to see the Camera 7 and although the programming was much to my liking, the theater was not worth the trip.  Eighteen months ago, I listed 11 theaters I wanted to visit.  I've subsequently visited three - Camera 7, Los Gatos & Vine Cinema & Alehouse.


Grandma has been well received by critics.  It's a road trip movie about Elle (Lily Tomlin), a poet who is still coping with the death of her lesbian partner of many years.  As the film opens, Elle is breaking up with her younger girlfriend (Judy Greer).  Wallowing in self-pity, Elle receives an unexpected visit from her teenage granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner).  She's pregnant & needs money for an abortion.  Neither of them wants to go to Sage's mother for the money.  Unfortunately (and rather contrivedly), Elle doesn't have the money on her.  Elle seems comfortable enough but she has just paid off all her debts and made wind chimes out of her credit cards.  She doesn't have the $600 Sage needs for the abortion so they go on a journey (actually more of an odyssey) around Los Angeles to find the money Sage needs.

This includes trips to a coffeehouse on the site of a former free abortion clinic, Sage's stoner boyfriend, a tattoo parlor, another coffeehouse where Elle's now ex-girlfriend works, the home of Elle's ex-boyfriend from 40 years ago & finally the office of Elle's daughter/Sage's mother.  At each stop, Elle is forced to confront old demons, hard truths & repressed feelings.

Two scenes stood out for me.  The first is when Elle has to ask her ex-boyfriend for the money.  As the scene unfolds, we learn that Karl (Sam Elliott) still harbors quite a bit of resentment towards Elle whose most critically acclaimed poem depicts a painful moment in their relationship and paints him as "the ogre."  When Karl learns the money Elle is asking for is to pay for Sage's abortion, we realize how much pain Elle's choice afflicted on Karl.

The other scene involves the oft-mentioned but never seen Judy (daughter of Elle & mother of Sage).  She makes her first appearance about 75% of the way into the film.  I've long admired the work of Marcia Gay Harden.  I first saw her in the Coen Brothers' Miller's Crossing (1990) and I now seek out her films and television appearances.  I recall some memorable appearances as an FBI agent on Law & Order SVU.

Anyway, in Grandma Harden plays a hard charging lawyer who must be intimidating to both her mother & daughter.  In the scene with the three of them, you get a sense of how dysfunctional the family is but also how deeply they care for each other.

Grandma is a well-crafted film.  Tomlin's performance is referred to as a "tour de force" but the film doesn't have the plot to accommodate a tour de force performance.  It's Tomlin vehicle and she gets a lot of the laughs but the film is more modest in its ambitions.  Its milieu is more existential than life changing or even life affirming.

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