First things first: the marquee attraction of Paul Weitz’s “Moving On” — well, the dual marquee attraction, in the form of perennial co-stars Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin — is in full effect. The former “9 to 5” compatriots and current “Grace and Frankie” besties are very much the stars of Weitz’s latest, which unfortunately seems to rely mostly on their decades-long partnership to sell a whisper-thin story with major tonal challenges. And while that might be enough to delight some audiences — Jane and Lily! Lily and Jane! — that Weitz so very much admires his stars and so deeply doesn’t know what to do with them ultimately stings.
The quick pitch is a good one, though. Decades after they enjoyed a close friendship with another college pal, Claire (Fonda) and Evelyn (Tomlin) reunite at said pal’s funeral, both with their own big bones to pick. Wacky Evelyn literally enters the solemn affair stage left, interrupting a particularly dry eulogy delivered by the bereaved’s widower Howard (Malcolm McDowell). It’s not just the death of Joyce that has left Howard a bit shaken, it’s also the very recent admission from Claire that she’s going to kill him. This weekend. Ah, decades-long friendship!
While Claire’s reasons for wanting to kill Howard are clear from the start, Evelyn has her own issues with the guy. Both are revealed over the course of the weekend and, in keeping with the confused natured of the film, are unveiled in very different ways, and with very different payoffs. Weitz, who also wrote the script, seems to want to dance around just why Claire is so righteously worked up, but that only prolongs the inevitable and obvious, and makes for some hammy lines to boot. At least Evelyn makes off with a genuine shocker, delivered during an awkward wake sequence that could have been stretched out to film for more time, “Shiva Baby” style.
Needless to say, both Claire and Evelyn have stewed on their resentments for decades, and are finally ready to do something about them…maybe. In keeping with the film’s title, the concept of “moving on” is different to each of the film’s primary characters: Claire wants to deliver finality, Evelyn wants to conceal the truth, and Howard just wants away from the drama he’s instigated. (The only character who seems to have any healthy regard for the vagaries of life: Richard Roundtree as Claire’s ex-husband Ralph, randomly called up to the wake by Howard, presumably to distract Claire but really to give the entire nutty situation an added complication.)
As Claire and Evelyn stumble through a botched revenge plot (the need to secure a weapon is picked up and dropped at random, and then mostly involves the acquisition of bacon), Weitz attempts to round out a shaky story with a series of seemingly disconnected subplots. Caustic Evelyn has a sweet side, which Weitz shows off through a well-meaning but wildly out of place subplot in which she helps a young stranger dealing with questions regarding their gender identity. Claire gets her own secondary story, too, as she and Ralph reconnect, which mostly serves as a way for Claire to further interrogate the pain that has driven her to attempted murder.
Other, even stranger elements continually pop up, like a seeming distaste for children (both Claire and Howard’s grandchildren are presented as badly behaved munchkins with little respect for their elders) and a running joke about Howard’s love for lattes. By the time Claire tries to smother the old guy with a pillow, you’ll be cheering for her to succeed, if only to make this frazzled, lukewarm outing end.
Oh, and it’s a comedy. Kind of? Despite being gifted with the formidable talents of both Fonda and Tomlin — an unimpeachable comedic duo — Weitz toggles between playing for laughs and going whole-hog on the darker elements of the story, not just scene to scene, but sometimes even minute to minute. A cloying score from Amanda Delores and Patricia Jones serves only to instruct the audience on how to feel (this is a sad scene, so let’s turn up the strings!; but this is fun, so let’s get boppy!).
How do you mess up a revenge comedy starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin? At least when it comes to that question, “Moving On” might prove to be instructive. Let’s move on from this one, and try again.
“Moving On” premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.