Sand Dollars / Dólares de arena

Meet Noeli, a beautiful young Black woman from the Dominican Republic. By day she spends time on the beach with rich white tourists, flirting and angling for gifts which she promptly resells. The nights she spends dancing up a storm in clubs with her boyfriend—or, in a remote little hotel with one very special tourist. Anne, a much older white French woman has been visiting the country on and off for years, and has fallen in love with Noeli. Noeli is quite fond of Anne too, but keeps her distance emotionally, and isn’t above lying and asking for money.

It’s a fascinating look at the intersections of race, class, gender, colonialism and unequal relationships. Noeli may seem mercenary and heartless, but she’s doing what she can to survive and support her boyfriend who can’t seem to find a job. Besides, you could say she’s only taking a little money from people who already have too much. It’s not really clear what Anne is looking for; she does love Noeli, but it’s a blind and naive love. She doesn’t care to know anything about Noeli’s life away from her, and though her Spanish is good she hasn’t tried to integrate in Dominican society at all. She adores the country, the scenery, the ocean to swim in, but doesn’t know anything about the details. I think, at least at first (and even now, to an extent) Noeli is just part of that scenery, just a piece she could enjoy up close.

Which is still pretty benign compared to some. Halfway through the movie she discover Noeli has a boyfriend and breaks up with her. She’s devastated, but fortunately gets support from some of her rich jet-setting pals. It was our first look at Anne in her own world, and it’s quite a revelation. She’s more talkative, more confident, smiles a lot more. She’s free to talk to anyone about anything, even her own affairs, and trust nobody will judge her—mostly because they’ve seen it all too. But as lovely and open-minded and cosmopolitan as these folks are, they don’t really think about anybody outside their world. We overhear one guy talking about the economics of resource extraction in the Dominican Republic. Though he has also enjoyed individual locals over the years, the country as a whole is just numbers to him and he doesn’t even conceive of what it means to be the one cutting down sugar canes or burning down fields and still have to feel grateful because there are just no other jobs available—as Noeli’s boyfriend briefly did.

Noeli and Anne get back together, and Anne starts to seriously talk about bringing Noeli to visit Paris—with the hope, maybe, of making it a permanent arrangement. Noeli is torn. She does enjoy shopping for clothes, but she’s not looking forward to experiencing this whole “winter” thing, plus she would lose everything she knows.

She makes a decision: one morning while Anne still sleeps, she steals as much cash as she can, and slips away with her boyfriend.

So… a few thoughts:

This is a movie adaptation of a book: Jean-Noël Pancrazi’s Les Dollars des sables. It’s a far better one than last year’s Salvation Army, but the editing is still a bit choppy in parts, and Noeli is a bit of a cipher. That’s possibly intentional: she’s been leading a double life, keeping secrets from both her loved ones, but we the audience shouldn’t be left wondering what makes her tick.

The ending was quite abrupt too, though again, not nearly as bad as Salvation Army’s. I wish we’d seen more of Noeli’s inner conflict, but in hindsight she made the best decision she could—or maybe the least bad one. Either way she’d lose people and cause a lot of pain, but it’s not clear what she would gain from moving to France. Medical care, education and opportunities for her unborn child? Maybe, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. But Noeli herself would be cut off from her community, entirely dependent on Anne for everything. I don’t remember hearing her speak French, so what kind of job could she even get? She’d be a kept woman, whose only companionship would be Anne’s rich peers and their kept men/women.

This movie strikes me as somewhat similar to Xenia; though the people of the Dominican Republic aren’t migrants, the end result isn’t too different since they are kept largely poor and unemployed by economic forces beyond their control.

Finally, what does the title refer to? We never see or hear about any actual sand dollars. The consensus, based on a couple of Twitter conversations, is that “sand dollar” is local slang for money spent by tourists, who mostly hang around the beaches. Any thoughts?


This is a movie about home and lack of home, about ruins and dreams, about hate and poverty and the struggle for survival. It’s by far the most challenging film I’ve seen in the festival this year, and I’m very glad I did.

Fifteen-year-old Dany has a mission: now that his Albanian mother is dead, he will go to Athens and reunite with his older brother Odysseas; together they will find their long-lost Greek father, get a DNA test thereby obtaining Greek citizenship and all sorts of freedoms, including the freedom to leave this godforsaken country with a Greek passport. Oh, and golden-voiced Ody will compete in “Greek Star”, a singing reality show that’s sure to win him fame and fortune, with Dany tagging along.

This is a bit of an odd movie. Yes, most of it is about the harsh realities of present-day Greece—grinding poverty, rampant fascism, the struggle to do whatever it takes to survive—but it has a number of surprisingly lighthearted scenes, most of them involving Ody. The gruff, scruffy, down-to-earth ultra-straight boy who’s easily embarrassed by his queer little brother? He’s got a voice that makes angels weep, and if you give him a spotlight or enough wine he’ll turn into a fabulous diva and prance along with Dany. It’s amazing to watch.

Then you’ve got Dany’s dream/fantasy sequences, which seemed so jarringly off-key compared to the rest of the movie. I’m still not sure how they fit in, to be honest. When his pet rabbit Dido “died”, it looked like a hilariously bad special effects failure, but the truth is that Dido was always a plush toy that Dany had carried around for who knows how long. What does it mean, though? That Dany is growing up? But then why does he see visions of the bunny walking around and talking to him? I’m confused.

(Incidentally, that revelation was a relief, because I couldn’t help wondering how a real rabbit ate, drank and pooped, and how stressed it must be, carried around in that stuffy bag all day. But hey! Never a problem.)

Does Dany even need growing up, though? he’s a kid of weird contrasts: sometimes such a child, impulsive and thoughtless and hopped up on sweets, carrying all sorts of pretty sparkly shit in his bag. But he also shacks up with sugar daddies and carries a gun around to aim at fascists. Taking care of a dying drug-addicted mother and living in this hard world will do that to you, I guess. What does growing up mean for him? Getting a regular job, living day to day? That’s what Ody did in Athens until Dany swooped in and infected him with his crazy dreams. And suddenly, survival was not enough.

Because survival will just lead to things getting worse; if people just worry about their own problems they won’t see the big picture, care about the future, reverse the erosion of society. Already the economic downtown has caused hotels in Thessaloniki to be completely abandoned and overrun with wildlife. Compare that with the swanky villa belonging to the brothers’ biological father, all pristine and white with security up the wazoo. Greece needs more than fascist politicians living in swanky gated neighbourhoods while migrants and the chronically poor eke out a living.

But maybe not forever. Just like the Odysseus of myth, the brothers (along with many, many others) are cursed to wander, with no homeland they really want to call their own. Odysseus eventually made it home, after many terrible adventures. Let’s hope that things will likewise get better for Greece.

What We Have / Ce qu’on a

What’s interesting about this film is that the basic story is pretty similar to A Girl At My Door‘s: the protagonist is a prickly, standoffish loner with an embarrassing history (an actual criminal record, in this case, exact details unspecified but it involved molesting a minor); they are exiled to a small town (self-exiled, in this case, to North Bay, ON); befriends a troubled teen who is suffering abuse (only bullying, in this case); goes beyond the call of duty and tries to help, and in the process gets a little too involved and opens himself up to serious problems. The main difference is that What We Have is a personal journey; everything that Maurice goes through, even his relationship with Allan, is linked only to his own issues.

Which is not a bad thing. I really enjoyed What We Have, except for one highly problematic scene at the very end: when Maurice finally opens up to Michael and explains all those flashbacks to the audience. He had been molested by his stepfather, who seemed to love him more than his mother. But Maurice was also in love with him, evidently enjoyed the experience, but it messed him up enough to make him prone to do the same, because part of him didn’t see anything wrong with it. Though I appreciate that this wasn’t the intent, it still comes way too close to old harmful stereotypes linking homosexuality and pedophilia, or homosexuality and past sexual abuse. The worst thing is, it was unnecessary: there were so many other ways you could have justified both Maurice’s isolation and his overinvolvement in Allan’s life without impacting the story at all.

Because criminal record or no, Maurice’s situation is extremely delicate. He has to be a good role model and build trust while keeping good boundaries, give advice without projecting his own crap on Allan’s situation or making things worse, etc… It’s a tough job for anyone. Maurice did try his best to keep the right balance, but his best wasn’t good enough.

Everything else was lovely, though. Maxime Desmons has a great touch with symbols, and they mostly felt organic to the story: Maurice as an actor (ie: a professional liar) playing the Miser (hoarding his gold, hoarding his feelings, driving everybody away): Allan’s gift of the little diorama, with its secret photos, which Maurice locks away in a cupboard, secrets within secrets. It did get heavy-handed near the end, such as when Maurice is running down the main street, then stops running (hint hint) and looks back.

The closing scene, with Maurice stripping naked and swimming in the open water of Lake Nipissing, also felt a bit clumsy at first, but in hindsight works on multiple levels. The sea is a common symbol of birth or rebirth, but here it’s also contrasted with the constrained indoor swimming pool where Maurice always swims. You could see it as the freedom of a new life lived without walls and secrets: much scarier, but ultimately more fulfilling. Honestly, I’m suspicious of any epiphany that supposedly makes one’s hangups magically disappear, but hey: this is fiction, it’s got to end somehow, so why not do it in an optimistic way?

A Girl At My Door / Dohee-Ya

This Korean movie, directed by July Jung, is challenging but not dark, and never gets bogged down by the hard questions it asks: about justice, about evil, following the law vs doing what’s right, the rights of individuals vs the needs of the group.

Police officer Young-Nam (played by the amazing Doona Bae) has been assigned to be chief of a small fishing town in the country. She used to live in Seoul, but an affair with a woman (or an underage girl? that part is never made clear) led to her superiors getting her out of the way for a bit until things blew over. Young-Nam settles in well enough, though she remains quite distant from the locals, even the local cops, and we learn she drinks like a fish. Seriously, one scene has her buying dozens of bottles of booze which she repeatedly gulps down like it was water.

Soon she gets caught up in the life of Dohee, a local schoolgirl who not only is bullied by her schoolmates, but also beaten by her father and grandmother. Almost every night she runs through the town’s back alleys near Young-Nam’s place, which is how she saw her. The bullying is easy to take care of: a little chat with the culprits while in full uniform is enough to put the fear of God in them, but the abuse is a different story.

After a few days Young-Nam manages to catch the father in the act; she knocks him away from Dohee, and then—while pinning him down and fending off the grandmother’s clumsy attacks—calls in backup. It was a fucking awesome scene. I cheered. The whole audience cheered. But it wasn’t the end. Dohee’s dad still has custody, still drinks, and still threatens to beat her up. On his first night back, Dohee shows up at Young-Nam’s doorstep. Not really having any options, Young-Nam lets her stay the night. This turns into a regular thing; Young-Nam is not happy with her space being invaded like this, and very uncomfortable with her new role of caregiver, but she really wants to help and protect the girl. And so eventually, Dohee wants to stay permanently. The father doesn’t really argue, but Young-Nam at least puts her foot down a little: Dohee will stay for about a month, until the end of summer vacation.

Two problems: first, Dohee has been living with abuse most of her life and while most of the time she’s fine, she tends to act out in very disturbing ways that Young-Nam is absolutely not prepared to deal with. Second, Young-Nam’s ex rolls into town, and they have dinner together. And argue, like they must have argued many times before: about Young-Nam’s drinking, her standoffishness, etc… that still doesn’t keep them from being seen by some locals including Dohee’s father, who puts 2 and 2 together.

Before you know it, Young-Nam is taken in for questioning about having improper relations with Dohee, and it doesn’t look good. Did she ever undress her? Yes (because she was soaking wet from hours in the rain). Did she ever touch her at all? Yes (to comfort her, and feel the nasty bruises on her back). Young-Nam protests that she did nothing wrong, but the other officers retort that her being gay puts a different spin on things. Dohee is also questioned, and it looks even worse: she’s clearly infatuated with Young-Nam, admits to being touched, and even points out where on a doll.

But upon learning that this all means Young-Nam will be taken away, Dohee hatches a plan: she gets her father drunk, and sets things up so the police catches him in the middle of molesting her. Later, after he’s taken away, she “confesses” that he’d made her say all those incriminating things about Young-Nam. Eventually realising that Dohee has nowhere to go except foster care, Young-Nam decides to take her in, and they ride out town together.

Now let’s talk about monsters.

Near the end, a junior police officer told Young-Nam that there was something wrong with Dohee, that she was “a monster” (and then quickly apologised for speaking out of turn). He may be right, but if so, she was made into one, by the constant abuse and bullying she suffered. In turn, was her father a monster? He did physically and emotionally abuse his daughter, and kept the town’s economy going by hiring illegal immigrants that he cheated out of their wages, but I’m willing to bet he suffered similar abuse at the hands of his bigoted mother. And so it goes.

Are the townspeople monsters? They mostly didn’t care about the foreigners’ welfare, only that they kept on catching fish; resident police officers definitely knew the truth and tried to keep Young-Nam from interfering. They felt bad about it, for what that’s worth.

Come to that, is Young-Nam a monster? She is a dedicated officer, who believes in justice and fairness… but some will see her as intrinsically bad just because she’s a lesbian. And what drives her to drink like she does? What pain does she hide? What demons is she trying to suppress?

What I’m getting from this is that no one is born a “monster”, but the potential to hurt others is in everybody, and that can be either nurtured or discouraged. Which is a lifelong process that can go either way. We don’t see Young-Nam drinking any less by the end of the movie, but her relationship with Dohee will hopefully help both of them in the long run. And even if it doesn’t… well, sometimes you just have to do what’s right and hope for the best. Take in the terrified girl at your door, because right this second you’re all she has.

I could talk about justice as well: Young-Nam is a police officer, but most of the plot happens outside her official role. She seems to be the only officer around who really cares about doing good in the community, not just enforcing law, not just about keeping the peace—deceptive peace, when beatings occur in people’s back yards that nobody does anything about. She believes the law is there to help the community as a whole, but not at the expense of individuals’ rights or happiness. Keeping the town’s economy afloat is not worth it if it means enslaving undocumented immigrants, or letting one girl be abused.

And did Dohee find justice in the end? No: getting her father jailed wasn’t justice. Possibly-maybe getting her grandmother killed wasn’t justice either. But it was the closest thing she’ll get get, since the law wouldn’t help her or the only woman who cared about her.

I’m trying to decide if this an idealist movie. Is the moral that we should try to change the world? Is it worth fighting the monsters? Apathetic cops let Dohee’s father’s abuses go for years, and they’re clearly portrayed as wrong. The world is a slightly better place now that her two people are dead or gone. But fighting monsters is hard, and they don’t go down in just one round. Try to change the world, and it’s liable to fuck you right back.

Is it worth the struggle? For Young-Nam, I think it was. I guess we all have to decide for ourselves.

Game Face

This is a documentary about two people: trans MMA fighter Fallon Fox, and college basketball player Terrence Clemens. Two very different people who deal with similar problems: deciding when and how to come out and whether or not it will affect their careers; dealing with prejudice.

It’s a story about role models, too. Terrence had a few, most notably Jason Collins who he reached out to on Twitter. Fallon, though, had no one. She’s the first openly trans MMA fighter. But she’s happy being a role model and voice for others, now and after she retires.

This was a very inspiring movie. Even heavily gendered and reactionary sports like MMA have come such a long way in the last few years, and it’s people like Fallon who are paving the way for the next generation. There’s still a long way to go, but the future’s in good hands.

My only complaint about Game Face is that it’s really two separate movies: the events they portray happen at around the same time, but Terrence and Fallon only met briefly once. Same themes, very different stories, and the whole is a bit disjointed.

After the movie, they brought out Terrence and director Michiel Thomas for a little Q&A. Unfortunately Fallon couldn’t make it due to her training schedule. Terrence has a wicked sense of humour, very dry and deadpan. I wish we’d seen more of that in the movie, though I guess there wasn’t much room for levity.

Still Not Over It: 70 Years of Queer Canadian Film

And here we have a sampling of queer Canadian cinema. Some great, some puzzling, some that kind of left me cold but I did appreciate for their historical value. Because every single one is a little window into a particular time and place, another piece of the puzzle that is our LGBTQ+ family. One of the questions raised in the Q&A is whether we really are one community; whether, e.g., a white gay male animator in 1940’s Winnipeg is kin with an Asian closeted gay male in 1970’s Vancouver, a white lesbian in 1980’s Montreal, all us lovely people sitting in a theatre in 2015, and whoever’s reading this blog post in the future?

I think the answer is, sometimes. Not always, that’s for sure. But if the answer were a hard “no,” then we wouldn’t even have this festival, am I right? There’s got to be something we all have in common, some little thread of shared culture, shared experiences. And maybe that’s one of the purposes of the VQFF, to shine a light on all our diverse lives, and make the word “we” just a little bit bigger every time.

That’s what I think anyway.

On to the shorts.

Boogie Doodle, by Norman McLaren (1940). Some very pretty and abstract nonsense with a catchy soundtrack. No story that I could see, let alone any gay themes. McLaren himself was gay, though, so here it goes.

60 Unit Bruise, by Paul Wong (1976). Oh, this one. I’ve seen this short before, and I absolutely couldn’t understand it. What was the point of filming yourself receiving someone else’s blood to make a bruise? Fortunately, the director (and bruise receiver) was there to answer questions. The blood exchange was not meant to be homoerotic; rather, it was a bonding practice between two needle-sharing partners. And they filmed it this one time, since that’s what amateur filmmakers do. So that’s the story: Wong and his partner were just bros, doing work. Mind you, they also happened to be lovers at the time. And now their work is being reread, reinterpreted, as part of a long lineup of historical works.

So… When Did You Figure Out You Had AIDS?, by Vincent Chevalier (1996). A weird little home video starring Chevalier as an AIDS patient, and a friend of his as the talk show host interviewing him. The humour ranges between random and tasteless, but hey, they were kids. And the movie’s kind of prophetic, because Chevalier did later both get diagnosed and go into acting.

L’usure by Jeanne Crépeau (1985). Hey, Jeanne Crépeau‘s been doing lesbian drama for a while, apparently! This little short about two women sorta-kinda breaking up, and then not, is all right, but not really that engaging. It was nice to see her name, though.

Gayblevision, 1982. A few clips from the Gayblevision show, which ran in Vancouver from 1980 to 1986. Some lovely black-and-white vignettes of gay & lesbian life in our fair city.

1919, 1996. A silent-movie-style retelling of the Winnipeg General Strike, focused on Sammy Wong’s combination steam bath and barbershop. Come for a good trim, stay for a little companionship, leave infected with communism.

Cornet at Night, by Stanley Jackson (1963). From the rolling farmlands of Saskatchewan comes the story of a boy who meets a young trumpet-playing man from the city, who briefly charms his family. This is a lovely black and white film with awesome music (both natural and man-made), artfully dealing with coded gay affection and identity.

Queer Best Of: International Shorts

A sampling of contemporary LGBT shorts from all over the world. All are absolutely wonderful, though it could have used a bit more “international” since all but one were made in Canada or the States.

In Glory Hole (San Francisco), a nice older couple recounts how they met. Yes, it was in the back room of a sleazy SF bookstore. And yes, they’ve been together over 20 years. Hilarious, adorable and heartwarming.

In First Clue (San Francisco) several women talk about their first crush, first kiss, first time they realised they were queer, etc… Funny and fascinating. Everyone has a different story to tell!

Float (USA) is a mesmerising collage of trans and genderqueer folks swimming underwater. Serene and inspiring.

San Cristóbal (Chile): in a small Chilean fishing town, the affair between two men is interrupted by a bashing. Then one of the two plans to move to Canada, and they have a tearful farewell. It was an interesting (though not exactly pleasant) contrast with every other short, in that it featured homophobia and closeted people.

Pepper / Le piment (Montreal) is hilariously awkward and awkwardly hilarious. The morning after a threesome, not everything is going smoothly. One woman is feeling left out and jealous that her partner and the extra woman have tons in common and are suddenly chatting like old friends. Everybody tries to smooth things over, unsuccessfully.

The Future Perfect (Vancouver). As weird and creepy as the first time I saw it.

Kumu Hina: A Place in the Middle (Hawaii): this is a documentary about a school that teaches traditional Hawaiian language and culture—which, like a lot of other First Nations cultures, has a special place for trans / genderqueer people; the school’s amazing head teacher is trans herself, and those students couldn’t be in better hands. A fascinating look at a culture I knew absolutely nothing about, and a great way to cap off the evening.

Peter de Rome: Grandfather of Gay Porn

Peter de Rome was a sweet, unassuming British gentleman, who got famous making gay porn in the 60s and 70s. His films were rediscovered in recent years, allowing a new generation to honour him for the pioneer he was.

What’s interesting about de Rome’s porn is that at first he didn’t intend to make money with it, or even to show it to the general public. He was just really interested in film, and started filming the tricks he took home—even on the street before he went up to talk to them. His stuff is completely spontaneous and unscripted, and has a very playful, sensual and unself-conscious energy. Eventually word got around, he started getting guys asking to star in his films; some awards followed; and then in the mid-70’s he got backing for two feature-length pictures. Looked interesting, too, based on the bits we saw, with nice visuals and actual stories. Adam and Yves is about a love affair in Paris between a Frenchman and an American tourist, while The Destroying Angel is creepy Catholic-flavoured horror. There’s incubi, hallucinations, guilty priests and a handless cum shot from a crucified guy.

I see this documentary as kind of a sequel to those very old-timey porn shorts I saw a couple years ago. Only kind of, though: there’s no direct continuity since de Rome was just doing his own thing. But it’s still neat to see how sensibilities, aesthetics and even politics evolved. Just another snapshot in gay men’s self-reflection and how they historically got off. And now decades later, what used to be seen as deviant and shameful is shown in film festivals and discussed openly by academics. What a strange, wonderful world we live in.

Sad news, though: according to Wikipedia, Peter de Rome passed away in 2014, after this documentary was made. He was just a few days short of his 90th birthday.


I’ve got somewhat mixed feelings about Pat Mills’ Guidance. It’s very funny, enjoyable and inspiring in an oddball sort of way, but it feels like two separate movies which don’t really work together.

Meet David Gold, former TV child star. Twenty years after being on the air, he can’t even hold down jobs recording feel-good affirmation tapes because all he’s really good at is drinking, smoking, alienating his family, compulsively watching tapes of his glory days, and denying his gayness.

Out of desperation he answers an ad for a high school counselor. With no experience, no references and only minimal prep work (ie: watching a few online videos), he manages to bullshit his way through the interview under a fake name and land the job!

Yes, the school was pretty desperate too, which sortakinda justified the whole setup. My disbelief needed a lot of suspension, but it looked like a silly comedy so I rolled with it. And kept on rolling as he breezily fixed all the kids’ problems like an alcoholic fairy godmother: teaching the shy girl how to flirt with a dumb jock; getting a problem student transferred to a school that would challenge him better… with lots of shots. Sometimes weed or cigarettes. But mostly shots.

What gave this part depth was that David isn’t some happy twinkly carefree blithe spirit. Having a job, responsibilities and the promise of income doesn’t make any of his issues go away. He’s still alone, still drinking alone even at work, still struggling with fears and denial and low self-esteem. As much as we want to laugh or cringe at his antics (and we do!) we want to give him a big ol’ hug and tell him everything will be all right. The job is helping him, little by little: his bonding with Jabrielle, one of the school’s “bad girls” and checking up on her abusive home life shows that he’s started to think about people who aren’t him.

I was still all ready for the story to evolve this way: David would hit rock bottom, possibly keep his job, possibly be let go, there’d be wacky hijinks, the students would rally around him, he’d find his self-esteem, quit drinking, reconcile with his family, and maybe find out his landlady’s not such a mean bitch after all. Happy ending!

But then, reality ensues. The nosy and very gay gym teacher find out David’s real identity after a little snooping, he’s found behind his desk in a drunken stupor, and everything comes crashing down: the principal calls the police, and David runs. He meets up with Jabrielle who’d run away from home, they go rob a few tanning salons (it makes sense in context) but they can’t keep it up for long. David sends Jabrielle to her aunt in Winnipeg, and he surrenders to the police. And finally, finally, David is at peace.

So… that was a bit shocking, to be honest. I think this movie was meant to show (among other things) a deconstruction of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl/Boy trope, but I feel it went a little too far for a comedy. Because now I’ve got too many questions: what will happen to all the kids he’s helped? Will Ghost be forced back to his old school when authorities find out his grades were forged? Will Jabrielle be able to stay with her aunt, make a new life away from her abusive parents? Will she be called to testify against David?

Still, there’s a lot I love about the movie. Besides being hella funny, it’s a loving ode to freaks, weirdos and repressed loners everywhere, who tend to be way more interesting than so-called “normal” people. Flaws and quirks are okay, and it’s best to be honest about them. And bland affirmations are worse than useless. Sometimes life really sucks, and it won’t get better until you face it.


It’s funny, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Lily Tomlin movie. Is that bad? Does that make me a bad gay? Well, it doesn’t matter, because this film is a hell of an initiation.

Tomlin plays Elle, a cranky academic still grieving over the death of her long-term lover; she seems to have few friends, and is barely on speaking terms with her daughter. Out of the blue, her teenaged granddaughter Sage shows up seeking money for an abortion. Elle is broke at the moment and has cut up her credit cards, so off they go to try to extract money from her old friends, ex-friends, ex-lovers and complete strangers before Sage’s appointment that very evening.

Grandma is a brilliant, hilarious ride: acidly funny like only Lily Tomlin can deliver, but also deeply moving in parts such as when Elle reminisces about her life with Violet or reconciles with her latest ex. And, just as importantly, it raises a bunch of points about the reality of getting an abortion, but wove them into the story so well I didn’t realise what it was doing until hours later: the issue of money or lack thereof, how supportive the baby daddy will be, actually having a clinic within easy access, dealing with guilt and fear of going to hell you never thought you had, getting judged by pro-birth activists or your own mother (for different reasons), having a support network…

Well played, movie. Well played.

Other lessons I learned: we’re all flawed and messy. No matter what we tell ourselves, no matter how successful we are in our careers, whether we’re neurotic perfectionists, philanthropes misanthropes or just confused teens, we’re all muddling along the best we can. And in a way, that’s a good thing. It means there’s always room to grow, to be inspired. People who think they know it all would be really boring. Or picketing abortion clinics, maybe.

A few more thoughts:

Hello, all-star cast! Sam Elliott, Laverne Cox, Judy Greer, John Cho, Nat Wolff… All spot-on, even the one-scene wonders. And really, wouldn’t it take stars of that calibre to keep up with Lily Tomlin? Julia Garner, playing Sage, was… all right. She held her own, but didn’t really shine.

One little nitpick, which I guess was unavoidable: the plot seemed forced to me. I mean, how likely is it that Elle wouldn’t have any available cash? Mind you, it turned out to be justified pretty well and played into Elle’s character, so it all worked out in the end.