Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda are out for revenge. In their latest cinematic endeavor together, their second this year alone, the two play estranged friends who meet again at the funeral of their college roommate. There to greet them is the smug and narcissistic husband of the deceased (Malcolm McDowell), which brings back painful memories for both women. Written and directed by American Pie and About A Boy’s Paul Weitz, Moving On tries to be a smart and moving tale of trauma but doesn’t quite commit to the bit.
Off the bat, it’s hard to go wrong with a Tomlin/Fonda team up. Both play off of each other’s comedic and dramatic sensibilities so well, which is expected with over 50 years of friendship, a seven-season television show and three films together. Weitz knows this and purposefully starts off the film with them estranged.
Fonda plays Claire, a divorced Ohio-residing woman who has an easier time bonding with her dog than anyone around her including her own daughter. She comes to the west coast to attend the funeral of her college roommate. As she is welcomed in by her friend’s husband Howard, (McDowell), Claire whispers in his ear that she is going to kill him this weekend.
It’s fairly obvious why she is so determined to murder him as soon as her friend dies. Like all too many women, Claire was raped by Howard nearly 50 years before, didn’t get justice, and is understandably not over it. Her marriage to Richard Roundtree’s Ralph ended over it and her friendship with Lily Tomlin’s Evelyn eventually faded.
Speaking of, Evelyn, an arthritic former cello player living in a retirement home, crashes the same funeral for a completely different reason. Barging in during the eulogy and interrupting the wake, she eventually reveals she and their friend were lovers who gave up their love for a heteronormative lifestyle. When she finds out what Claire wants to do, it takes some convincing but she eventually jumps on board helping secure a gun and an opportunity.
Weitz cashes in on Fonda and Tomlin’s chemistry, knowing that their banter can carry an audience through almost anything. Both women are channeling a quiet rage they showcased much in their earlier careers in The Incredible Shrinking Woman, Klute, and Coming Home. Tomlin is always there to drop an sardonic remark and with Fonda coming around the back end bringing the emotion.
Where Weitz’s struggles is his commitment to the premise and tone. He doesn’t fully succumb to the dark revenge trauma comedy in a way that’s satisfying. There’s this element of melodrama that blocks the folksy tones the director is clearly going for. Amanda Jones’ score works well here to bring out those darker comedic elements but because the story isn’t streamlined, the film falls slightly flat.
Despite story issues, Weitz builds a solid film off of Fonda and Tomlin. He’s worked with the latter twice, in 2013’s Admission and 2015’s Grandma. Moving On feels like a more cluttered version of that film, centered on abortion instead of the legacy of patriarchal trauma. If anything, come for the endearing premise, stay for Tomlin and Fonda.
Moving On is in theaters now. Watch the trailer below.