Lily Tomlin in “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe” (1991)

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By Scott Ross

Lily Tomlin, seen below as Tess the bag lady in the movie of her partner Jane Wagner’s The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. Wagner, Tomlin and the director Jeff Bailey skillfully assembled the movie from the stage show, moving back and forth from Lily sans costumes or make-up to more “realistic” renderings of the many characters she portrays. It’s a brilliant collection of characters, each fully limned and perfectly delineated, in a film informed by Wagner’s absolute genius for selection and observation and Tomlin’s unerring ability to flesh out the many complex ideas and to give perfect life to every character. She never stands outside of these people, or makes even the more absurdly limited of them seem ridiculous.

Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross

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