After spending seven seasons together effortlessly lobbing one-liners as Grace and Frankie, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin were well primed to bring their finely honed comic chemistry to a larger canvas, such as the one offered by the new Paul Weitz feature, Moving On.
Unfortunately, they can only go so far in distracting from the fundamental tonal issues that never convincingly jibe with the film’s darker-edged themes. Overlooking a blandly generic title that sounds like something Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau might have taken on back in the ’70s, the revenge-driven satire certainly seemed like the Weitz stuff, coming from a filmmaker who hasn’t shied away from blending social relevance in with the humor, as demonstrated in About a Boy (co-directed with his brother, Chris), In Good Company and Fatherhood.
On its surface, the set-up — a pair of old friends reunite to permanently (as in, fatally) settle an old score against the recently-widowed bullying husband of a mutual friend — can’t help but hold some undeniable 9 to 5 allure. But when the impetus for that drastic action is finally revealed late in the film, it lands with such a seismic jolt that it effectively stops the proceedings cold to the extent that the movie is never able to convincingly regain its comic footing.
As a result, despite the audience-pleasing presence of its two leads, it could be a challenge for the indie title, arriving at TIFF looking for distribution, to find a suitable home — especially when its target demographic has been more resistant to the idea of leaving the comfort of their streaming devices and venturing back into theaters.
Hiding behind a mousy pair of large glasses and a mane of snowy-white hair, Fonda’s Claire doesn’t exactly look like somebody with a vendetta. But when she shows up at the funeral of a dear friend, she wastes little time greeting the deceased’s cad of a husband (Malcolm McDowell) with a coldly executed, “Howard, I’m going to kill you!”
The precise reason for her intentions will not be fully shared with the audience until much later. But it’s apparently known to her old buddy, Evvie (Tomlin, who can upcycle a casual throwaway line like no one else), who’s more than willing to help Claire procure the gun she requires to carry out her mission.
Evvie, a musician who has lived her life filter-free when it comes to telling it like it is, hasn’t exactly been forthcoming about her own personal situation: She’s had to give up her home and move into an assisted-living facility. But she does manage to upstage Walter’s eulogy, proclaiming herself to be his late wife’s lesbian lover.
In the midst of all the audacity, Claire manages to reconnect with ex-husband, Ralph (a suave Richard Roundtree in a lovely performance), and their ensuing renewed romance lends the film its tender center. But while one would be perfectly happy to spend more time with the two of them, Claire still has unfinished business to conduct with the defiantly unrepentant Walter. And when the gravity of his transgression is finally revealed, the sheer weightiness of it simply feels out of sorts with the misplaced black comedy that both precedes and follows the dramatic showdown.
Although Tomlin (for whom Weitz wrote 2015’s Grandma) and Fonda are thoroughly capable of taking their characters in any direction required of them, Moving On ultimately strands the actors — and the audience — at an awkward impasse.
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Gala Presentations)
Production companies: Depth of Field, Limelight, Boies Schiller Entertainment
Cast: Jane Fonda, Malcolm McDowell, Lily Tomlin, Richard Roundtree, Sarah Burns
Director: Paul Weitz
Screenwriter: Paul Weitz
Producers: Andrew Miano, Paul Weitz, Stephanie Meurer, Chris Parker, Dylan Sellers
Executive producers: Zack Schiller, David Boies, Tyler Zacharia, Dan Balgoyen, Britta Rowings
Director of photography: Tobias Datum
Production designer: Michael Wetstone
Costume designer: Molly Grundman-Gebrosi
Editor: Hilda Rasula
Music: Amanda Jones
1 hour 25 minutes