Aug 28

“Grandma”: Lily Tomlin’s Not Your Grandpa’s Woman

Sony Classics describes the highly liked Lily Tomlin-centered comedy/drama Grandma, written and directed by Paul Weitz:

Lily Tomlin is Elle Reid. Elle has just gotten through breaking up with her girlfriend when Elle’s granddaughter Sage unexpectedly shows up needing $600 bucks before sundown. Temporarily broke, Grandma Elle and Sage spend the day trying to get their hands on the cash as their unannounced visits to old friends and flames end up rattling skeletons and digging up secrets.

Young Sage (Julia Garner) is pregnant, you see, and what she wants is an abortion. Scott Foundas, Variety: “Though likely to be variously praised and pilloried as a pro-choice film, Weitz’s film is really a movie about choice in both the specific and the abstract — about the choices we make, for good and for ill, and how we come to feel about them through the prism of time.”

Watch the trailer:

The Road Trip

June Thomas, Slate: “Since Elle, a poet and occasional academic writer-in-residence, has just $43 to her name and has made a charming, if unmelodic, wind chime from her chopped-up credit cards, there’s only one possible course of action: The two of them whip the cover off Vi’s amazing old Dodge and hit the road, hoping to find a friend who’ll lend them the cash.”

Stephanie Zacharek, Village Voice:

During this road trip, the thorny, multi-dead-end map of family resentments is laid out. Sage doesn’t dare tell her distracted businesswoman mother, Judy (played, with both sharpness and subtlety, by Marcia Gay Harden), about the pregnancy. Elle isn’t speaking to Judy, either — the two have had a falling-out. What’s more, all three women are still in mourning for Violet, Elle’s longtime partner, Judy’s mom, and Sage’s other grandmother: She died not so long ago, after suffering through an illness…

Scott Foundas, Variety:

…(A)s the characters crisscross the city over the course of the day, their journey becomes an unforced but unmistakably political survey of three generations of independent womanhood in America. Like Tomlin herself, Elle was an out lesbian long before it was widely accepted, and her daughter, Judy, had Sage through an anonymous sperm donor. And now it is Sage’s turn to make a critical decision about her own body and the life of her unborn child — a decision, ‘Grandma’ unambiguously argues, it is hers and only hers to make.

Grandma

Katie Walsh, Indiewire: “Throughout the course of the film, we get to know Elle as she really is: a salty, rabble-rousing free spirit who doesn’t give a whip about what other people think. The best possible onscreen role model, basically.”

Stephanie Zacharek, Village Voice: “As Elle finds out, even when you think you know everything, there’s always more to learn.”

Selected Reviews

Katie Walsh, Indiewire: “The best part about ‘Grandma’ is the sensitive and insightful script by Weitz—every line is instantly quotable, little nuggets of sardonic life wisdom that should be needlepointed onto a pillow.”

John Esther, UR Chicago: “Quick, sharp and superior to the similar Juno, Grandma runs with fresh humor, biting satire, a little craziness and feminist politics…”

Bob Strauss, Los Angeles Daily News: “It’s a perfectly gay-positive, pro-reproductive rights, anti-economic inequality, almost entirely Bechdel Test-acing and otherwise impeccably progressive movie that always remembers correct thinking people can also be awful and funny and dumb.”

A.O. Scott, New York Times: “There is much to praise…:the way the script captures the speech patterns of the young, the old and the middle age; the way the story feels at once frantic and relaxed, as the two main characters race against the clock and meander through Los Angeles in Elle’s wheezy vintage car; the brief, memorable appearances from supporting performers like Judy Greer, Sam Elliott and Elizabeth Peña (in one of her last roles). But honestly, the wonder that is ‘Grandma’ can be summed up in two words: Lily Tomlin.”

Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly: “This is Tomlin’s movie, and she obliges with a spiky, refreshingly unvarnished performance.”

May 04

“Grace and Frankie”: Husbands Emerge From the Closet

New Netflix fictional series Grace and Frankie answers the question, What happens to a spouse’s life when her straight—she thinks—husband is not? To complicate matters, he’s already been having an affair with another man—and now they want to get married.

So far, we have an unfortunate but not uncommon kind of scenario—the closeted spouse, the affair(s) before the secret is discovered or disclosed. Add in the fact that in Grace and Frankie the affair has been going on for 20 years.

Starring in Grace and Frankie are Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin as the titular characters and Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston as the husbands. It premieres as a streamer later this week, on May 8th.

The trailer is designed to represent five stages of change: 1. Shock, 2. Denial, 3. Confusion, 4. Rage, and 5. Reflection:

GRACE AND FRANKIE

Liz Shannon Miller, Indiewire, sees the pilot episode as “painting Fonda and Tomlin pretty bluntly into their stereotypical boxes: Fonda as the tight-laced Type A perfectionist with a fondness for vodka and Tomlin as an easy-going hippie type who freely experiments with substances of all kinds. It’s a classic odd couple pairing that gets leaned on a little hard for its comedy potential.”

John Koblin, New York Times: “Ms. Fonda’s Grace is an uptight 70-year-old former beauty product executive who has rocky relationships with nearly everyone in her life. Ms. Tomlin’s character is a free-spirited hippie who offers painting lessons to ex-cons and dabbles in peyote and pot.”

Dorothy Rabinowitz, Wall Street Journal: “As the title tells, they’re the story here—two women who cordially detest everything about one another’s habits, views, values, working their way toward an alliance. Grace, who once ran a beauty products company and who would rather die of pain wearing killer heels than spoil the look of an outfit, now lives with someone whose clothes reek of pot, and who fills the house with weird chanting and, occasionally, with those ex-convicts. Frankie, immovable, is full of her own lofty contempt.”

THE HUSBANDS AND KIDS

Brian Lowry, Variety:: “…(T)he men offer some quieter moments, ranging from giddiness over being honest about their long-deferred affection to weariness dealing with the fallout. ‘I’m never not going to be coming out, am I?’ Robert says in a later episode of the six previewed.”

“The kids, however, barely register, and there’s too much time spent on Frankie and Sol’s son Coyote (Ethan Embry), a recovering junkie.”

ADVANCE REVIEWS

Rabinowitz: “It’s…clear, as the action progresses, that the show has its mind on matters other than husbands coming out—matters like women suddenly alone, women no longer young, marriage itself—large subjects it pursues with a keen instinct for the hilarious and no stops for right-minded messages.”

Koblin: “In an era when comedies like ‘Broad City’ and ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ unreel jokes at a machine gun clip, there’s a slower pacing at work here.”

Miller: “…(Q)uite frankly, it takes a long time for things to feel at all funny. I clocked my first real chuckle at about 17 minutes into the first episode. If you were expecting a hilarious comedy, downgrade those expectations appropriately, and instead look forward to what, with some patience, could be an intriguing portrait of modern relationships, anchored by some incredible talent.”

Jun 25

“Web Therapy” Returns Next Week: Plus the First Season On DVD

Good news for Web Therapy fans: next Monday the TV series returns for its second season, and the first-year’s episodes are now available on DVD.

What’s the premise of the series? Therapist Fiona Wallice (Lisa Kudrow) offers extremely brief therapy sessions—three minutes, to be exact—online. The tagline on the DVD cover: “Therapy With No Patience.”

Nick Venable, who’s reviewed the DVD on Television Blend, attempts to summarize the various goings-on of last season:

After leaving former employer, the Lachman Brothers financial group, under suspicious circumstances, Fiona manipulates everyone in her life, from her unaffectionate husband Kip (Victor Garber) to the Lachmans’ ditzy assistant Gina (Jennifer Elise Cox), to promote and find investors for her company, Web Therapy; her patients are also victims of Fiona’s exploitative ways. Because her marriage and her relationship with her mother Putsy (Lily Tomlin) are largely loveless, she deludes her way through life, assuming simple conversations with IT worker Kamal (Maulik Pancholy) are veiled sexual advances and carrying on a faux relationship with infatuated former co-worker Richard (Tim Bagley).

Apparently neither a huge fan of the format or the show or the DVD itself, Venable does like the 10-minute “Behind the Scenes” feature:

The basic gist of everything is explained by the core members of the cast and crew, and that’s about it. But its brevity is to its advantage, and makes Web Therapy seem like a much funnier show.

Despite his various criticisms, he concludes with this:

…I still recommend this show to anyone willing to give it time. It has a strong fan base and there are many people out there who will find it worlds more enjoyable than I did. For the low DVD price, it’s a better bargain than giving Lucy Van Pelt a nickel.

Over at Popmatters, critic J.M. Suarez is more pleased with both the series itself and the DVD. Some examples:

Kudrow’s interactions with Tomlin are a highlight of the series as Fiona’s mother is as disconnected from reality, through virtue of her vast wealth, as Fiona is from how qualified she is as a therapist…

What’s perhaps the best choice the series makes is that oftentimes, Fiona actually inadvertently stumbles upon real problems and solutions, as she does with fellow therapist Ted Mitchell (Bob Balaban) in one of the funniest episodes of the season. While she’s probably more dysfunctional than any of her patients, Fiona is so unreflective as to never question how her own personal failures would make her the last person equipped to offer guidance and advice to others.

Suarez likes the generous portion of outtakes as well as the behind-the scenes feature and looks forward to the upcoming season:

Web Therapy has plenty more material to mine and Fiona will certainly continue to plot ways in which to gain more and more success, through whatever amusing and unorthodox means necessary.

Jan 31

Funny Women: More Quotes from the Best Female Comedians

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, funny women Whoopi Goldberg and Lily Tomlin preceded Tina Fey in receiving the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

Readers of this particular blog may find the following quotes relevant:

Whoopi Goldberg: “Normal is in the eye of the beholder.”

“Normal is nothing more than a cycle on a washing machine.”

Lily Tomlin: “Why is it that when we talk to God we’re said to be praying, but when God talks to us we’re schizophrenic?”

“Delusions of grandeur make me feel a lot better about myself.”

“I always wanted to be somebody, but I should have been more specific.”

Quotes From Other Funny Women

Janeane Garofalo: “I guess I just prefer to see the dark side of things. The glass is always half empty. And cracked. And I just cut my lip on it. And chipped a tooth.”

Mary Tyler Moore: “Take chances, make mistakes. That’s how you grow. Pain nourishes your courage. You have to fail in order to practice being brave.”

Betty White, On being recruited to host Saturday Night Live last year due to a massive Facebook campaign:”I didn’t know what Facebook was, and now that I do know what it is, I have to say: It sounds like a huge waste of time.”

Caroline Rhea: “Being in therapy is great. I spend an hour just talking about myself. It’s kinda like being the guy on a date.”

Carol Burnett: “You have to go through the falling down in order to learn to walk. It helps to know that you can survive it. That’s an education in itself.”

Jan 30

“Bossypants” By Tina Fey, Comic Chronicler of Everyday Problems

Tina Fey‘s bestselling book Bossypants (2011) was released this month in paperback. As described in one review: “Bossypants gets to the heart of why Tina Fey remains universally adored: she embodies the hectic, too-many-things-to-juggle lifestyle we all have, but instead of complaining about it, she can just laugh it off” (Kevin Nguyen, Amazon.com).

Or, as Fey herself writes: “Because I am nothing if not an amazing businesswoman, I researched what kind of content makes for bestselling books. It turns out the answer is ‘one-night stands,’ drug addictions, and recipes. Here, we are out of luck. But I can offer you lurid tales of anxiety and cowardice.”

She says a number of things that I find quite relevant to self-growth and/or mental health issues. For example, on dealing with the childhood trauma of having her face slashed and permanently scarred by a stranger: “I accepted all the attention at face value and proceeded through life as if I really were extraordinary. I guess what I’m saying is, this has all been a wonderful misunderstanding.”

Other quotes from Bossypants on topics of interest:

“My ability to turn good news into anxiety is rivaled only by my ability to turn anxiety into chin acne.”

“You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute.”

“There are no mistakes, only opportunities.”

“I keep my eyes on the sea, waiting to be rocketed into it on a wave of fire. I’ll be ready for it to happen and that way it won’t happen. It’s a burden, being able to control situations with my hyper-vigilance, but it’s my lot in life.”

In 2010, Fey became only the third woman to ever win the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, arguably the biggest award a comedian in the U.S. can receive. The award, which has been given annually since 1998, was given to Whoopi Goldberg in 2001 and Lily Tomlin in 2003.

When she gave her acceptance speech at the Mark Twain event, she directed the following remarks to her parents in the audience: “They say that funny people often come from a difficult childhood or a troubled family. So to my family, I say, ‘They’re giving me the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor! What did you animals do to me???”

If you’re up for it, here’s the complete video of her speech, coming in at about 15 minutes:

Watch Tina Fey’s Acceptance Speech on PBS.