L.A. Film Fest: Hanging out with Lily Tomlin, Sam Elliott & Paul Weitz's 'Grandma'

'I wanted to come up with an excuse for hanging out more with Lily Tomlin,' said Paul Weitz of his 'Grandma'

“It’s just great to have you here for the L.A. premiere of Paul Weitz’s ‘Grandma.’ And by that I mean the film, of course.”

In introducing the opening-night film of the Los Angeles Film Festival, Josh Welsh, president of Film Independent, made a variation of a joke on the movie’s title that would be heard a few times throughout the pre-show. 

Written and directed by Weitz, “Grandma” is a rare starring vehicle for Lily Tomlin, who plays Elle Reid, a once-noted poet still grieving over the loss of her long-time partner. One morning, her granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) arrives needing money for an abortion appointment later that day. Elle is broke herself, and the two set out in search of anyone willing to lend them the money, hoping to avoid going to Sage’s mother/Elle’s daughter (Marcia Gay Harden). In a last-ditch effort, they visit Elle’s old flame (Sam Elliott), who she hasn’t seen in 30 years.

“I did a film called ‘Admission’ where Lily played Tina Fey’s mother. It was a supporting role and I wanted to come up with an excuse for hanging out more with Lily Tomlin,” Weitz said by way of introducing the film.

“So I figured if I wrote a script where she’s in every scene, I could get some quality time with Lily Tomlin,” he added.

All of the film’s main cast was there, as Weitz introduced Tomlin, Garner, Harden, Elliott and Judy Greer.

The L.A. Film Festival, running through the 18th, has for the last few years been centered at the Regal movie theaters at LA Live. The main house is among the biggest screens in the city, and a deliberately small, carefully calibrated character piece like “Grandma” could potentially be overwhelmed by the size of the theater. It spoke to the strength of the film’s performances and its subtle charms and observations that it managed to fill the room with emotional nuance and scaled power rather than loud explosions and splashy effects.

Before the feature, there was a short film financed by American Airlines extolling film production in Los Angeles. Directed by Film Independent fellow Ryan Velasquez, it featured various statistics as well as Weitz and filmmakers Ava DuVernay, Sean Baker, James Ponsoldt and others on the virtues of shooting in the city, including comments from Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Following the movie, at a party across the street on the roof-deck of a parking structure, talk centered not just on the performance by Tomlin but also on Elliott. His single, long scene is a powerhouse and finds the rugged actor displaying more emotional range and depth than he is often called on to do. Though it is only summer, there was of course much talk as to whether both Tomlin and Elliott might still be talked about come awards season.

“Grandma” comes to theaters in late August from awards-savvy distributor Sony Pictures Classics, in something of a pre-fall slot that could well position it to be remembered for year-end consideration.

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