Tomlin & Wagner in person for dual retrospective

Film at Lincoln Center announces Two Free Women: Lily Tomlin & Jane Wagner, September 12-16.

A testament to the collaborative nature of art and show business, the career of beloved comic actor Lily Tomlin has long been intimately connected to that of her partner Jane Wagner. This dual retrospective considers their projects together across a variety of formats, in which writer and sometimes director Wagner’s sharp-eyed observations and deftly drawn characters are animated through Tomlin’s tremendous versatility on screen. The scope of their work suggests the breadth of a lasting and fruitful partnership that reshaped the art of American comedy, and expanded its feminist imagination. Two Free Women highlights a diverse selection of their films, like the classic one-woman opus The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, in which Tomlin shape-shifts between a dozen different personas, as well as Tomlin’s dazzling performances in such iconic American movies as Nashville and 9 to 5. 

Other standouts of the lineup include The Incredible Shrinking Woman, a Wagner-scripted feminist riff on the ’50s sci-fi film that provides the perfect showcase for Tomlin’s physical comedy; Carl Reiner’s fantastical romp All of Me, starring Tomlin opposite Steve Martin; and a bevy of rarities, including the touching, Wagner-penned childhood drama J.T. and a newly remastered version of Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill’s documentary Lily Tomlin, an intimate look at Tomlin and Wagner’s creative process as they prep for the Broadway debut of The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner will appear in person throughout the series, culminating in a far-reaching conversation with cultural critic and programmer Hilton Als. Several of their groundbreaking television specials will also be on continuous view in FLC’s amphitheater. 

Organized by Hilton Als and Thomas Beard.

Tickets go on sale Thursday, August 22 and are $15; $12 for students, seniors (62+), and persons with disabilities; and $10 for Film at Lincoln Center members. Save with the purchase of three tickets or more. Premium pricing in effect for the conversation.

Special Thanks:


All screenings will take place in the Walter Reade Theater (165 W. 65th St.) unless otherwise noted.

Opening Night
The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe
John Bailey, USA, 1991, 120m
Jane Wagner and Lily Tomlin’s genius on the page and the stage, respectively, is nowhere more apparent than in their hugely popular 1985 play, The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, which was later given an enduring form in this 1991 film adaptation. Tomlin embodies a dozen characters in all their glorious idiosyncracies, including Trudy, a bag lady tuned into humanity’s collective consciousness and acting as a liaison to alien observers; Agnus Angst, a punk teenage runaway and aspiring performance artist; and a trio of women who have taken rather different paths since their heady days in the feminist movement. Partly an illuminating time capsule, reflecting on the social and political fallout from the tumultuous two decades that preceded it, the work also resonates throughout as a far grander narrative, a tale of the elaborate interconnectedness that holds together our peculiar, captivating species.
Thursday, September 12, 7:00pm (Q&A with Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner)

9 to 5
Colin Higgins, USA, 1980, 109m
The brainchild of actress Jane Fonda, this highly enjoyable studio comedy—which marks the screen debut of country singer Dolly Parton—takes on the issue of women in the workplace, and is prescient in its treatment of sexual harassment. As office colleagues who exact revenge upon their good-for-nothing boss, Lily Tomlin, Fonda, and Parton exude real-life camaraderie in a number of scenes that give off a refreshing, almost improvised vibe. Fonda has said that she thought of Tomlin and Parton for the film after she had seen the former onstage and heard the latter on the radio. Not only a record of a great collaboration, the film marked the beginning of a decades-long association. Indeed, Fonda and Tomlin are presently the stars of the Netflix series Grace and Frankie, currently in its fifth season. 
Friday, September 13, 2:30pm
Sunday, September 15, 2:00pm

All of Me
Carl Reiner, USA, 1984, 35mm, 93m
In the 1980s, Lily Tomlin worked with a number of comedians and musical stars—sometimes both—in movies that reflected the strangeness of Reagan-era America. In this one, a kind of slapstick spiritualist comedy, the Oscar-nominated actress teamed up with an artist she had toured with years earlier: Steve Martin. Tomlin is Edwina Cutwater, an entitled, imperious millionaire who dies in the first third of the film, but then gets to live forever (sort of) in the body of her befuddled lawyer, Roger Cobb (Martin). But director Carl Reiner and writers Edwin Davis and Henry Olek don’t stop there. Eventually Roger falls in love with Terry Hoskins (Victoria Tennant), the woman Edwina meant to leave her body for in the first place.
Friday, September 13, 5:00pm
Sunday, September 15, 4:15pm

Big Business
Jim Abrahams, USA, 1988, 35mm, 97m
Switched-at-birth farce Big Business concerns a pair of twins who get mixed up in a rural maternity ward. Forty years later, one pair, Rose and Sadie (Lily Tomlin and Bette Midler) are now the executives of their father’s conglomerate Moramax. When the company plans to divest its holdings in the West Virginia furniture maker Hollowmade, their country counterparts Rose and Sadie (also Tomlin and Midler) head to New York to protest the sale and save their town, resulting in a delirious romp of mistaken identities. Working from a script that Jane Wagner finessed in its final stages, Tomlin and Midler pivot nimbly between their dual roles, comic foils to each other and themselves.
Sunday, September 15, 8:15pm

Paul Weitz, USA, 2015, 79m
Elle—wit, widow, curmudgeon, and a lesbian poet of some reputation—has just unceremoniously dumped her much-younger girlfriend when her granddaughter shows up at her doorstep, needing money for an abortion. Similarly broke, the two then spend the day cruising around town in a 1955 Dodge Royal trying to wrangle the cash, running into old friends and erstwhile lovers as Elle doles out grumpily sage advice. The trip prompts a low-key reckoning with a complicated past that’s unexpectedly very present, and Tomlin shows herself once again to be a master of small moments, imbuing the performance with considerable grace, tenderness, and rough-edged charm.
Monday, September 16, 9:15pm*
*Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, 144 W 65 St

I Heart Huckabees
David O. Russell, USA, 2004, 35mm, 107m
Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman play existential detectives in this wild philosophical satire. Among the clients who have hired the duo to spy on them are a hapless idealist (Jason Schwartzman) fighting suburban sprawl and consumed by his coincidental encounters with a Sudanese refugee, as well as a firefighter (Mark Wahlberg) torn between his overwhelming moral dilemmas and the seeming meaningless of life. Complicating the investigations is the arrival of their glamorous nemesis and former student, Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert), who offers a nihilistic alternative to the sleuths’ gospel of cosmic concatenation. Few films have dealt so amusingly with the chaos and contradictions of the early 21st century, and Tomlin, as she so often does, electrifies an already impressive ensemble.
Monday, September 16, 7:00pm*
*Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, 144 W 65 St

The Incredible Shrinking Woman
Joel Schumacher, USA, 1981, 35mm, 88m
For housewife Pat Kramer, it was a day like any other in the ’80s idyll of Tasty Meadows, with its ranch houses and manicured lawns. But then suddenly she begins experiencing a most unexpected side effect from life in this consumerist paradise. The products that she uses every day, and that her ad exec husband (Charles Grodin) sells to America, have caused her to grow inexorably smaller, and soon her doll-like stature becomes a media sensation. Jane Wagner’s script, an inspired feminist riff on 1957’s The Incredible Shrinking Man, proves an ideal platform for Lily Tomlin, particularly her gifts for physical comedy, which play brilliantly at every scale.
Saturday, September 14, 3:30pm

Robert M. Young, USA, 1969, 60m
Lily Tomlin first became aware of writer-director Jane Wagner’s work when she caught this exquisite drama on television in 1969, starring Kevin Hooks—son of the fabled black actor Robert Hooks—as a young kid in Harlem who acts out at home and in the neighborhood, until he unofficially adopts and cares for a stray kitten who wouldn’t make it without him. J.T. was one of the first productions of its kind that did not condescend to its black subjects, and Wagner’s humanism is the guiding spirit of the show, along with her ability to inhabit her characters’ lives and actions. After it premiered, Tomlin tapped Wagner to help develop material for her knowing kid character Edith Ann, among others, for her 1972 Grammy-nominated album Modern Scream. Thus began one of the great collaborations in modern entertainment. 
Saturday, September 14, 2:00pm

The Late Show
Robert Benton, USA, 1977, 35mm, 93m
Two years after Nashville, Lily Tomlin starred in her second feature, the critically acclaimed The Late Show. Written and directed by Bonnie and Clyde screenwriter Robert Benton, this 1977 character study tells the story of Ira Wells (Art Carney), an over-the-hill detective who is no stranger to isolation. Through a series of events, he meets Margo Sperling, a talent manager who deals grass to stay afloat financially. Ultimately Margo hires Ira—not to find a missing person, but her AWOL cat. In this Robert Altman–produced movie, Tomlin and Carney play to each other’s strengths, their comedy filled with pathos and understanding for the marginalized people they’ve brought to life. When Margo starts to crack open because of Ira’s care, you can see her trying to remember when she last had that feeling.
Friday, September 13, 7:00pm

Lily Tomlin
Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill, UK/USA, 1986, 90m
Lily Tomlin, by veteran documentarians Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill, has for years been nearly impossible to see, but for this occasion Film at Lincoln Center will present it in a newly remastered version. The film follows Tomlin and her team through the many months of preparing The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe for its Broadway debut, workshopping the performance with audiences across the country and gradually refining its every facet. Replete with evocative, intimate episodes—Tomlin and Jane Wagner as they review a note-laden script, movement exercises with Tomlin’s acting coach Peggy Feury, backstage banter—the work allows a rare view into the creative process behind the legendary one-woman show.
Sunday, September 15, 6:15pm

Robert Altman, USA, 1975, 160m
When director Robert Altman was in the planning stages of Nashville, he had the actress Louise Fletcher in mind to play Linnea Reese, a gospel singer with two deaf children (the Southern-born Fletcher had been raised by non-hearing parents). Ultimately, though, the role went to Lily Tomlin, who would be nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for this, her first movie, a panoramic look at the Tennessee capital in the run-up to a presidential primary. Tomlin used what she knew of her parents’ Kentucky roots to make Linnea fully dimensional, and her quiet approach to the role silences the extraordinary chatter around her. Tomlin’s performance alternates between humor, longing, and calm capability. Hers is an unforgettable contribution to what Pauline Kael dubbed “the funniest epic vision of America ever to reach the screen.” The new 4K restoration of Nashville will have a one-week run at Film Forum, September 20-26.
Saturday, September 14, 7:30pm

TVTV Looks at the Oscars + The Quiche of Peace
TVTV, USA, 1976, 59m
Vito Russo, USA, 1983, 4m
Guerilla television outfit TVTV went behind the scenes at the 1976 Academy Awards for this remarkable showbiz meta-documentary, locating the essence of the Oscars by skirting its periphery. We’re privy to nominees like Ronee Blakley and editor Verna Fields preparing for the ceremony and reflecting on the event (Lee Grant, for instance, speaks movingly about the blacklist), plus interviews with adoring fans. Tomlin here is featured in a dual role, as herself, a nominee that year for Nashville, and as one of her most beloved characters, the prim homemaker Mrs. Beasley, who watches the broadcast from her couch in the suburbs and provides a running commentary. Preceded by “The Quiche of Peace,” a sketch for Vito Russo’s pioneering television program Our Time in which Mrs. Beasley visits a gay bar to offer the dish as a symbol of goodwill on behalf of the heterosexual community.
Friday, September 13, 9:00pm

A Conversation with Hilton Als, Lily Tomlin, and Jane Wagner
Writer Hilton Als joins Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner for a wide-ranging discussion of their work across film, television, and theater, punctuated by selections from some of their most iconic sketches as well as little-seen deep cuts.
Saturday, September 14, 5:30pm