Lily Tomlin Proves Old Age Can Be Interesting

Do a search for “Grandma” on Google Images, and you’ll be greeted with row after row of older women—almost all of them be-spectacled, almost all of them be-halo-ed in a puff of white hair, almost all of them smiling, beatifically and benignly. “Grandma” may be, technically, a relationship rather than a description, but we have, collectively, our assumptions about what the person who occupies that role is like: She is probably sweet. She is probably docile. She’d probably really love to bake you some cookies. She is “Grandma,” and that—not just according to Google, but according to movies and novels and comic strips and TV shows, across the culture, and with very little exception—is her most relevant feature.

Not so Grandma’s Elle Reid, who manages to be both a grandmother and a complicated human at—against all odds—the same time. Elle (Lily Tomlin, in a performance that is, oddly and tellingly, a breakout) is loud and opinionated and stubborn and ornery and angry. (“Mom says that you’re philanthropic,” her granddaughter, Sage, tells her.

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