04/18/2015 10:17 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Live from the Tribeca Film Festival: Friday, April 17


I rarely miss either the Sundance or Toronto film festivals each year -- but my relationship with the Tribeca film fest has been spottier. 

Partly that's due to scheduling: For a variety of reasons, I've been out of town for large chunks of the festival each of the past couple of years. 

But it's also the fact that, in its 13th year, Tribeca has yet to establish its identity as an important festival: i.e., one that offers premieres of films that will dominate the discussion of movies in the coming months.

That's hardly the case with Tribeca, and rarely has been. While films have had their debuts at Tribeca and gone on to critical and/or commercial success, few of them arrived at Tribeca as hotly anticipated unknowns.

Situated in April, smack between the Sundance/Berlin nexus of January and February and the monolith of Cannes in May, Tribeca is reminiscent of the Hamptons Film Festival: a collection of films which either didn't make the cut at more prestigious festivals or which already have had a debut elsewhere. 

Still, on paper at least, there are enough interesting films to allow me to stack three or four screenings a day at the ever-so-conveniently located Battery Park multiplex. 

On paper. Actually sitting through them is another story. I saw four films on Friday, only one of which I'd recommend. 

That film, Grandma, is a road movie with a trip that only lasts one day but takes its characters through a lifetime. The title character is Elle (Lily Tomlin), an aging poet and academic first seen breaking up with her girlfriend (Judy Greer), then receiving an unexpected visit from her granddaughter, Sage (Julia Garner).

Sage, it turns out, needs $600 that day; it's an emergency and her grandmother is the only one she can turn to. They set off together, driving around L.A. in a vintage Dodge, chasing down the cash. 

As they say, it's not the destination, it's the journey. This one offers Tomlin the best role she's had in years, as the tough-talking senior with her own share of regrets to occupy her. Garner makes an interesting foil, softer but just as tough in her own way. A strong supporting cast -- including Sam Elliott, Laverne Cox and Greer -- keep things lively, even when director Paul Weitz's script occasionally coasts on cliches. 

Not a great film -- but an entertaining and enjoyable one, something I could rarely say about the other three. 

This commentary continues on my website.