Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are at it again. Last year’s follow-up to the seven year run of Grace and Frankie was, 80 For Brady, a whimsical quest to meet and ogle superstar footballer, Tom Brady. Even with the addition of co-stars Sally Field and Rita Moreno, the film landed with a thud at the box office. No amount of alchemy could squeeze comedy from a premise that thin.
In Moving On, Paul Weitz’s MeToo tale of vigilante justice, the emotional and dramatic stakes are set at loftier levels. Enough to support the big gun acting acumen Fonda and Tomlin bring to a project.
Fonda’s character, Claire, has been rubbing against the raw edges of trauma-induced anxiety for decades. It’s not a stretch to believe she’d go gunning for a man who’d raped her almost 50 years ago. Intense and headstrong, wielding a well-seasoned recipe for revenge, she’s now in search of someone to play Bonnie to her Clyde.
Enter Tomlin as the wise-cracking sidekick, Evelyn. A world of backstory exists behind those weary, but wary eyes. Evelyn isn’t happy to see Claire. It’s been decades. She’s got life down to a science, and she likes it that way. But she’s chill.
Upon hearing Claire’s assassination aspirations, she folds quickly, stating with impish delight: “I can chat about that,” thus igniting the plot – a destination murder, if you will – at an oceanside resort in southern California.
Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange, Mozart in the Jungle) occupies with gusto the role of Fonda’s intended victim, Howard. We know him well. Like Dabney Coleman’s well-defined office villain in Fonda and Tomlin’s Nine to Five, he’s the guy everybody loves to hate.
We can stretch credulity to accept the fate being planned for him. McDowell is totally perfect, keeping the pitch of his angry histrionics low-key, matching the understated bandwidth set by the two stars’ performances.
Richard (Shaft) Roundtree plays Claire’s first husband, Ralph. The sweetness of their present-day romantic interlude serves as counterpoint to Claire’s internal tug-of-war about how she will respond to his sexual entreaties.
Something Fonda does better than almost anyone else in film is to convey the critical bend of a character’s will with minimal expression and maximum impact. Her screen time with Roundtree is a reminder of the uber-mature entanglement she shares with Robert Redford in Our Souls at Night.
The crime will be set in motion during a life celebration for the alleged rapist’s deceased wife. Both Claire and Evelyn had been the woman’s close friends. Her death allows them a guilt-free zone to move forward with their strategy.
The clumsy planning and preparation provide some of the film’s finer comedic moments. But, of course, it would. These are the antics of wannabe octogenarian murderers. And though it’s Fonda’s single-mindedness propelling the plot forward, Tomlin’s Yoda-like wisdom helps us take the leap of faith necessary to believe this revenge comedy won’t careen off its unstable rails.
Once at the gathering, Claire gets to work immediately. Confronting her demons while shaking the hand of her attacker, she tells Howard: “I’m going to kill you. Now that she’s gone. I’m going to do it this weekend.”
We might laugh awkwardly at the emotion-free delivery of the shocking threat. But it leaves us to wonder what world we’ve wandered into. And that might be the problem.
Moving On constantly shifts genres from black comedy to episodic melodrama, to ripped-from-the-headlines social commentary. As written by Writer/Director, Weitz, it’s sometimes a tough slog to sort through which film we’re watching.
The best buddy films take us down roads that provide opportunities for growth to the lead characters. Moving On is no exception. Claire and Evelyn are substantively altered by their diverse experiences. We care about them. But, in the end, we are force-fed a mashup of potential hilarity instantly rendered flat by Weitz’s desire to wrap things up in a neat package.
In a film fixated on the dark, the messy, and the complicated, a neat package is not the reward we expect, nor seek. Contemporary culture has grasped the platform of the MeToo movement. We can be trusted with a film that more deeply examines the motivations for revenge, while at the same time hitting subtle notes of irony, self-deprecation, and yes, wry humor.
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Are you Fonda and/or Tomlin fan? Which of their movies is your favorite? Have you seen Moving On? What did you think of it? Do you think it was lacking in development? Please share your thoughts!