Poking fun at grumpy old people who have lost touch with the ever-changing world around them, complaining about how much better life was back in the old days, seems to be striking a chord with the aging Baby Boomer generation if these recent films are anything to go by: Grandma (2015) and The Grump (2014).
These two films mine the comedy inherent in feisty silver-haired people who find no pleasure in their day-to-day routine struggling with the challenges of modern society, new technologies, and attitudes of young people. Perhaps after losing a loved one, they are now bitter about having to cope without their partner to help them get through life.
Septuagenarian Lily Tomlin in Grandma is going through a personal crisis when she breaks up with her latest partner and finds herself caught between conflicting personalities of her uptight, career-minded daughter and her rebellious granddaughter who comes to her for help after getting pregnant.
Despite her alienating gruff exterior, Elle (Lily Tomlin) goes on a journey to collect enough money to help her granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) while confronting her past and her failings with her own daughter Judy (Marcia Gay Harden) with sarcasm and acerbic humor.
Paul Weitz’s low-budget Sundance hit, Grandma is a sensitive comedic drama illustrating how grandparents can still play an important role in their children’s and grandchildren’s lives. Children in today’s ever-trending virtual society often find themselves without traditional role models and in conflict with their parents. Grandparents from the free love and flower power generation of the 60s are often the ones they feel more comfortable turning to for guidance.
There’s an important underlying message of family failings in these two films. As the mother fails her daughter in Grandma, so the father fails his son in the Finnish comedy The Grump. Children are sometimes overshadowed by their overbearing controlling parents and struggle to find their own identity.
When the grump, Mielensäpahoittaja, travels from his remote country home to the big city of Helsinki to see a specialist after hurting his ankle, he must stay with his son and daughter-in-law who live in the modern, bustling city. The grump loves to hate on everything; he doesn’t like the city and he doesn’t approve of his son’s lifestyle and his strange new gadgets. His son never learned to drive and he is driven around by his wife, who is a career woman.
The grump is confused by all the strange new modern ways of city folk and feels like a fish out of water. Feeling bitter and out of place makes it difficult for him to connect with his stay-at-home son who looks after the household while his wife goes out to work, which seems to work just fine for the young couple.
When the grump tries to help his daughter-in-law close a deal with a tough elderly client, the grump’s old world knowledge proves to be quite useful and he eventually discovers that if he can get over his anger and prejudices, he can still play an important role in his son’s life.
Both Grandma and The Grump have important messages for aging grandparents with extended families and use plenty of heart and humor to make us love these cantankerous characters despite their faults.
by John Schwab