‘Grandma,’ ‘Obvious Child’ Show Willingness to Tackle Abortion Issue

Grandma,” a film about a sassy grandmother trying to help her granddaughter find the money for abortion, comes down firmly for a woman’s right to choose.

By aligning itself with the pro-choice movement, the indie comedy is part of a new string of art house releases taking up the Roe v. Wade mantle at a time when many states and legislators are trying to curb reproductive rights.

Time and again the picture embraces the mantra, her body, her choice.

“I hope it wasn’t a polemic of any kind, but I’m glad it says what it does,” star Lily Tomlin said when questioned about the film’s abortion rights stance during its Sundance premiere Friday.

What’s interesting about “Grandma” is that it follows a decade during which filmmakers seemed to steer clear of the issue of abortion. Films such as “Knocked Up” and “Juno” depicted single women and teenagers of limited means choosing to give birth instead of aborting. They were comedies that pro-lifers could love. It got to the point where some publications were asking if liberal Hollywood had switched sides on the abortion issue.

The new attitude was in contrast to ’90s films and pictures from the early aughts such as “Vera Drake” and “The Cider House Rules” that lionized abortionists, as well as ’80s pictures such as “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and “Dirty Dancing” that had lead characters terminating pregnancies in a straightforward fashion. It’s also in stark contrast to pro-choice touchstones such as “Maude,” the ’70s sitcom that’s central character famously decided not to carry an unintended pregnancy to term.

“Grandma” comes on the heels of another Sundance favorite, “Obvious Child,” that depicted a twenty-something woman opting to terminate her pregnancy after a one-night stand. In both cases the films inject some levity into the proceedings, but the issue of whether or not to keep the baby is not treated lightly. “Grandma,” in particular, shows that abortions dredge up feelings of regret and recrimination in a scene between Tomlin and a former lover played by Sam Elliott. In another, Tomlin informs her granddaughter that ending her pregnancy is something she will think about every day of her life.

“It’s such a complex choice and such a private choice, and we’re not allowed to talk about it,” “Obvious Child” director Gillian Robespierre said during an interview with Variety last summer. “There’s a lot of shame that our culture puts on female sexuality and reproductive choices.”

Art house pictures have the luxury of appealing to niche audiences, so it seems unlikely that mainstream comedies would be as willing to engage the issue of reproductive freedoms as candidly, lest they risk alienating parts of the moviegoing public.

Films are responsive to the political climate around them and in the case of abortion, Americans are more evenly divided than ever before. A recent Gallup poll from 2014 showed that 47% of Americans identified as pro-choice and 46% aligned themselves with the pro-life movement. Twenty years ago, more Americans embraced the pro-choice label, with 56% endorsing abortion rights and 33% coming down in opposition to them.

In recent years, states such as Michigan have tried to attack insurance coverage for abortions, while others such as South Dakota and Louisiana have imposed or attempted to enact waiting periods before women are allowed to have the procedure. Even pro-choice advocates have tempered their rhetoric, with politicians such as Hillary Clinton endorsing the idea of making abortions “safe, legal and rare.”

The shift in attitudes towards abortion is reflected in films such as “Grandma.”

“So many people have to deal with this in society, it’s just taboo to talk about” “Grandma” director Paul Weitz told Slate’s Aisha Harris in an interview. “It’s like a third rail.”

He went on to note that statistics show that 30% of women under the age of 45 had an abortion, so it remains a widely sought after medical option.

“Grandma” is not a feminist screed. It’s a nuanced portrayal of a teenage girl in trouble and faced with unappealing options. It’s her choice, yes, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

More Film

  • Matt Damon and Tom McCarthy Team

    Matt Damon Teams with 'Spotlight' Director Tom McCarthy on New Film (EXCLUSIVE)

    Even as buzz grows for his upcoming race car drama “Ford v. Ferrari,” Matt Damon looks to keep the pedal to the metal: the A-lister is set to star in the Participant Media feature film “Stillwater” with Tom McCarthy directing. Damon attached himself in May, and the package was quickly acquired by Participant, who previously [...]

  • US actor Kevin Spacey (C) is

    Kevin Spacey Shouldn't Be Exonerated in Hollywood Even as Criminal Case Ends (Column)

    The news that criminal charges against Kevin Spacey in the Nantucket groping case have been dropped raises an inevitable question: does this mean he can claw his way back into Hollywood’s good graces? Or maybe more importantly: should it?  Spacey’s rapid descent was startling, even as it quickly followed that of the once untouchable producing [...]

  • Movie Ticket Subscriptions

    As MoviePass Fades, Theaters Fall In Love With Subscription Services

    MoviePass may be cratering, but movie theater subscriptions are here to stay. AMC and Cinemark already operate their own online ticketing services. And by the end of July, Regal Entertainment is expected to unveil a subscription plan for customers accustomed to getting all manner of entertainment for a monthly fee. With ticket sales down more [...]

  • This photo shows composer Hans Zimmer

    Hans Zimmer on Recreating Iconic Score: 'The Lion King' 'Brought People Together'

    Composer Hans Zimmer is seated at the mixing board at the Sony scoring stage, head bobbing to the music being performed by 107 musicians just a few yards away. He’s wearing a vintage “Lion King World Tour” T-shirt, frayed at the collar. On the giant screen behind the orchestra, two lions are bounding across the [...]

  • Lion King merchandise

    'The Lion King': Disney Targets Nostalgic Adults With High-End Merchandise

    Does Nala wear lipstick? Probably not, but “Lion King” fans can celebrate the release of the live-action remake with a new line of makeup that’s part of a whole pride of other items themed to Disney’s live action redo. For about $40, the Can’t Wait to Be Queen eyeshadow palette by Luminess Cosmetics includes shades [...]

  • 'Cats' Movie Trailer: Watch Taylor Swift,

    'Cats' Trailer Drops: Watch Taylor Swift, Jennifer Hudson in Movie Musical

    Universal has released the first trailer for its film adaptation of the Broadway play, “Cats,” starring Taylor Swift, Jennifer Hudson and James Corden. Based on the book “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” by T.S. Eliot, the musical follows the Jellicle cats, a family of felines who go before the group’s leader Old Deuteronomy to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content