The invigorating success of both Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin’s television and film careers over the last few years cannot be overstated. About a decade ago both legends found themselves in a position to move back to the top of the call sheet. This mutual resurgence hit an inflection point with the Netflix show Grace & Frankie, an incredibly successful sitcom that finished with its seventh season only last year.
The duo pair up again in the Paul Weitz tragi-comedy Moving On. The picture opens at the wake of an old friend of both Claire (Fonda) and Evelyn (Tomlin). Minutes after her arrival, a quiet Claire informs her dead friend’s widow Howard (Malcolm McDowell) that she plans to kill him. We gather he committed some unnamed atrocity on her many years before. In due time the movie will reveal how terrible it was and what she plans to do about it. In between is a fairly diverting, sometimes entertaining revenge narrative that moves a bit too slow for its own good, despite its scant 85-minute runtime.
Fonda is doing great work here, unsurprisingly. It is quite remarkable how this living legend (starring in films since 1960!) continues finding nuance in each of her characters after all these years. Tomlin––ever the ying to Fonda’s yang––enters the picture quite memorably and proceeds to steal moments where she can. A comedy icon herself, she did some of her best late-career work with Weitz in the superb 2015 film Grandma. The duo hold together this narrative, which is essentially “to kill this terrible old guy or not to kill this terribly old guy.” There’s hemming, there’s hawing. There’s a funny scene at the local gun shop and two undercooked B-plots concerning a kind ex-husband (Richard Roundtree, charming as ever) and a young boy (Marcel Nahapetian) that befriends a begrudging Evelyn.
McDowell is reliable as ever in the villain role, offering a complacency to his deviancy that is frankly unsettling and unfortunately realistic. Fonda plays against him well, though it feels like there’s meat left on the bone. One wishes there’d been a bit more to their exchanges when everything builds to a less-than-satisfying final act. And yet, the banter between Fonda and Tomlin keeps the spark alive.
The comedy is often too broad, immediately followed by incredibly stark drama. Not unlike his past films (About a Boy, Being Flynn), Weitz attempts to reconcile difficult subject matter with comedy where it fits. Tonally, Moving On plays a bit unorganized. While the results are mixed, these performers make the journey worthwhile.
Moving On opens on March 17.