Moving On, 2023.
Written and Directed by Paul Weitz.
Starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Richard Roundtree, Malcolm McDowell, Catherine Dent, Sarah Burns, and Marcel Nahapetian.
Two old friends reconnect at a funeral and decide to get revenge on the widower who messed with them decades before.
It is baffling that writer-director Paul Weitz (American Pie) doesn’t realize that for Moving On to work as a comedy-drama blend, it needs to stick to gallows humor, considering its heavy subject material. Fortunately, his misdirection here is not enough to sink terrific performances from Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin at the center of a much darker film than usual given to older female leads.
Someone wouldn’t be entirely wrong coming into Moving On expecting the usual quirky lightweight hijinks from veteran performers of this age (especially since Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin just got done doing that routine in 80 for Brady), but also pleasantly way off the mark as the story deals with a horrific incident and how it has affected the lives of these characters while reuniting and paying their respects at a friend’s funeral. As soon as Claire (Jane Fonda) reaches Los Angeles and comes into contact with Malcolm McDowell’s shady Howard, the grieving widow of their now-deceased friend, she confronts him directly, mentioning that she remembers something vaguely horrific that he did, that she has nothing left to lose, and that she is going to kill him.
Coming off of a prologue where Claire is somewhat estranged from her daughter and technology-obsessed grandchildren that have no interest in spending time with her, and no one in her life but a canine companion she loves deeply, the threat feels legitimate and promises to send the story in a heavy direction. It also feels intentional that the script leaves the incident somewhat predictable so viewers can slowly prepare themselves for how harsh the story will get. Then there is Claire’s lifelong friend Evelyn (Lily Tomlin), who doesn’t exactly advise against revenge but is more willing to assist once Howard mocks the romantic love she once shared with his dead wife.
Aside from the conflicting and frustrating comedic tone, Paul Weitz is also willing to see these characters as real people fueled by more than getting even, as Claire’s ex-husband Ralph (Richard Roundtree) is also present, causing the two to start catching up. Naturally, Ralph (who also ended up remarrying and starting a family) pries into why Claire left him in the first place, which is also connected to the trauma she either experienced or witnessed in some way regarding Howard. The script could have continued further down a goofy comedy road here, but instead suggests that maybe Claire does have more to live for and is caught up in a misguided revenge scheme. The scenes between Jane Fonda and Richard Roundtree are also touching with effective chemistry.
And while Evelyn gets to deliver the sardonic, no-filter jokes and initially comes across as a vessel for some of the script’s weaker impulses, the film also articulates that she was once a cellist that can no longer play due to failing bones and joints. There’s a sad beauty in how Paul Weitz is comfortable slowing the film down to focus on smaller details about life and aging, making these characters come across as fully-rounded human beings with much to ponder. Elsewhere, a point is made to touch on how enabling and nasty the family and friends of Howard turned out to be (namely, an upsetting moment where a father and mother disapprove of a boy potentially questioning his gender through jewelry).
In between that is a kooky subplot about getting a flare gun for Claire from a friend inside a nursing home, so not every diversion is a winner, but Moving On is still something leaner and rougher truly worthy of Jane Fonda’s and Lily Tomlin’s talents (and Malcolm McDowell is also taking his role seriously reminding viewers he is one of cinema’s greatest slimeballs). Sure, a few bits during the third act feel forced, and there are probably more endings than necessary, but it does finish with a twisted sense of humor. That’s the tone Moving On needed, but what’s here is still solid with enough thoughtful character drama.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com