Grandma is one part comedy, one part drama, and full of heart. It strives to provide a normalized and de-stigmatized portrayal of abortion for mainstream audiences. And it succeeds at doing so. Elle, played by Lily Tomlin, is an outspoken lesbian poet who stands by her granddaughter’s side through her decision to have an abortion. Sage, Elle’s granddaughter, is unashamed about her choice and knows that she can count on her grandma to help her through this tough time.
The two embark on a journey to find $630 for Sage’s abortion. Throughout this journey, the women encounter people from Elle’s past as they search for a way to find money. Battles with ex-boyfriends, first editions of feminist literature, and drip-coffee pack this film with laughter. But the movie balances this humor with the seriousness of abortion. Sage is terrified about her decision. She wonders if it will hurt, if she will go to hell, if her choosing abortion is actually okay. And this is all so real. I remember being there, asking myself if my choice was the right choice. If there was some way I could have a baby and give it to someone who desperately wanted a child. If I could somehow stop being myself for nine months and be more like Juno with some happily ever after. But where Juno fails, Grandma provides another narrative. One where a young woman does choose abortion, and is assured that she is doing the best she can for herself.
I love this film. I have urged friends and family to watch it. It is brilliant, and it definitely is changing the mainstream media portrayal of abortion. But it still has its flaws.
The main issues I have concern the cast. Elle and Sage were well-rounded characters, but Sage’s mother was flattened into an angry business mom with no emotional connection to her family. Elle’s ex-girlfriend Olivia defined herself through their relationship. Elle’s friends and ex-husband made such brief appearances I can barely remember their names (and I have seen this film at least three times). What makes it worse is that Sage and Elle have access to the money Sage needs for her abortion, and they can literally access it the day of her appointment. The only reason I could afford my abortion was because of excess loan money I had gotten my freshman year at JMU. I come from a poor family and I know the struggles it comes with. Not everyone has access to $600 the day they need it.
There is also the issue that Sage and Elle, the two most important characters, are white cis-gender women. Sure, we get abortions, too. But we’ve been at the forefront of the conversation for a long time now. We should give the spotlight to someone else. Why couldn’t this story be about a young woman of color? Why couldn’t Elle’s partner (who was a woman of color) at least be ALIVE in the film? I do like the story and the characters. I just hope this film opens the door for more films like it, with a focus on more diverse characters. Those stories need to be heard (and seen), too.
As a young woman who has had an abortion, I think the portrayal of the actual abortion should have been better. It doesn’t even get its own scene, just a before and after. I suppose that is all right. However, after her abortion, Sage just looks a tad grumpy and says she has some mild cramps. Excuse me, but my cramps were fucking awful! Granted, I had a medication abortion and Sage had the surgical procedure. The point is, abortion is painful. It’s not an “oh well, time to cuddle and watch movies” moment (sorry, Obvious Child, I still love you). It’s a “holy shit I have to throw up and cry and curl into myself please drug me now” sort of moment.
Overall, like I said before, I love this movie. It is one of the best abortion films I have ever seen. But it still wasn’t quite what it could have been. And that’s okay. I think it’s paving the way for what is yet to come. We just have to keep our eyes open.
Featured image: screenshot by ProChoicePrincess