“Grandma” offers a refreshing, accepting view of abortion

grandma scene“Grandma” is a trifle of a movie with the socially redeeming characteristic of portraying an accepting attitude toward  abortions. Unlike most Hollywood films, broadcast-TV dramas and even many independent productions aimed at a mainstream audience, this movie normalizes abortion—portraying it as the legal medical procedure that it has been since 1973.

That’s different, because in so many movies depicting reproductive decision-making, the preferred outcome is that the woman, after some soul-searching (or pressure from parents, ministers, friends or even the father) decides to keep the baby. I’m not sure whose preferences are being expressed there, but that seems to be the “acceptable,” “uplifting, “feel-good” ending chosen by the majority of movies tackling—or just touching on—this subject.

The Grandma of this film is played by Lily Tomlin [a women’s rights advocate in “real life”] who is clearly comfortable in the role of the no-nonsense, wise-cracking, pot-smoking truth-teller. She gets embroiled in her teenage granddaughter’s quest for an abortion when she’s asked to contribute $500 to cover the fee for the procedure.

What sets this movie apart is that there’s no moralizing, no lecturing the granddaughter about the evils of terminating a pregnancy [except for some nasty harassment by anti-choice demonstrators awaiting her in the clinic parking lot]. The main characters—Grandma, the granddaughter and her uptight mother—all treat the abortion as a legal, non-shameful part of the healthcare landscape. No one is particularly overjoyed that the granddaughter has become pregnant—but neither do they scold her for making the personal choice to end her pregnancy. No one loves the idea of the abortion, either. Grandma remembers her scary, illegal abortion in the years before Roe v Wade. The granddaughter clearly feels nervous about the procedure and maybe even a bit conflicted about going through with it. It seems to me that those are the normal emotions that one would have when faced with the situation. She’s certainly not cavalier about it, as anti-reproductive zealots would have us believe is the case for women seeking abortions.

So, although the movie has some moments of gratuitously slapstick comedy [Grandma smacks her granddaughter’s jerk of a boyfriend in the nuts with his own hockey stick], it redeems itself by at least trying to present a sympathetic view of how abortions actually take place in real-world women’s clinics. [This is especially timely as politicians attempt to undermine, using faked and misleadingly edited videos as “evidence,” the work done by Planned Parenthood and other women’s clinics to help women get legal abortions as well as other critical reproductive health services.] I appreciated the filmmakers’ depiction of the clinic’s staff as caring and understanding of the difficult emotions a young pregnant woman might be feeling.

“Grandma” probably won’t win many awards—in fact, when anti-reproductive-rights activists figure out what’s in it, it may generate boycotts, protests and attempts at public shaming.[ It’s worth noting that, in my part of the world, this movie is being shown not at the big-box multiplexes, but at an independent cinema, where it’s less likely to draw attention to itself.]

It’s just such a sad commentary on the nature of contemporary political (and artistic) dialogue that a movie with a calm, matter-of-fact message about abortion is the exception to the rule.