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PRINT September 2019

film

LAUGH IN, LAUGH OUT

Joel Schumacher, The Incredible Shrinking Woman, 1981, 35 mm, color, sound, 88 minutes. Pat Kramer (Lily Tomlin).

WHEN LILY TOMLIN’S FIRST FILM, Robert Altman’s Nashville, was released in June 1975, the actress and comedian had been a star for at least five years, celebrated for her array of voluble characters. Some of these personae—Ernestine, the floridly passive-aggressive telephone operator; Edith Ann, an uninhibited five-year-old emotional savant—made their debut during her 1969–73 tenure on NBC’s Laugh-In. Others, like Bobbi Jeanine, a bromide-dispensing lounge-circuit organist, premiered on The Lily Tomlin Show (1973), the first of her four eponymous TV specials from the ’70s. These personalities illustrate Tomlin’s tremendous gifts with voice. But in one of the best scenes from Altman’s superb ensemble movie, itself dense with talk and song, she mesmerizes with her silence.

In the final hour of Nashville, Tomlin’s Linnea Reese—dutiful wife to a self-involved attorney, devoted mother

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