In his previous film, writer-director Paul Weitz (About a Boy, Grandma) ventured into grief and how to rekindle friendships and eventually find closure in the Netflix comedy-drama titled Fatherhood. With Moving On, he’s transitioned from Kevin Hart playing a widowed father to finding some deadpan hilarity with the on-screen pairing of Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, who are fresh off seven seasons of Grace and Frankie and the sports comedy 80 For Brady. It appears to be a winning move to pair Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin together, they still have first-rate on-screen charisma, and it’s rewarding to see living icons still being active and having roles written for them. The film is short, just under 90 minutes, but the film is a sharp, heartfelt look at two old friends who know their years are numbered as they grow older, reconnecting and trying to find closure on the past traumas that carry in their consciousness all these years later.
Weitz was an Oscar nominated writer for the adapted screenplay, with his brother Chris Weitz, in the Nicholas Sparks adaptation of About a Boy (2002), which also received a BAFTA nomination. While he hasn’t been nominated for an Oscar nomination since, he has garnered some high acclaim for such films as In Good Company and Grandma. While he bounces between directing studio films and directing his own screenplays, which often have a fraction of the budgets of the studio films, Weitz approaches each project with intelligence, maturity, and witty humor. It’s a huge transition from his directorial debut, the raunchy but amusing teenage sex-comedy American Pie. While Moving On is far from a perfect movie, it’s rather a slight film, but Weitz’s writing hasn’t faltered.
Courtesy Roadhouse Pictures
Weitz’s thirteenth film merges dark comedy with some sheer poignancy, in which Weitz gives Fonda, Tomlin, and co-stars Malcolm McDowell and Richard Roundtree some elevated character depth that rises them out of the lazy caricatures that we have seen too often in film and television with senior citizen characters. The film opens with a funeral, where we see the cast of characters reconnecting for the first time in years. Claire (Fonda) is a grandmother to detached grandkids, who drops her dog off to her daughter as she drives from Ohio to California to attend the funeral of her longtime friend. Once she arrives, we sense tension between her and Howard (McDowell), the husband and widower of her old best friend, which she doesn’t offer her condolences to, but she does make a threat that she is going to kill him by the weekend.
Claire is vulnerable because of her past relationship with Howard, and she is equally traumatized by an incident that occurred 46 years ago between them. We know it’s traumatic because Claire remembers exactly how many years ago the incident took place and corrects Howard when he claims it’s only 45. We don’t know exactly what happened until the third act, which involves a very resonant scene. The only other person that Claire ever told about the incident with Evelyn (Tomlin). At the time of the event, she never told a friend about the event because she knew it would have jeopardized the marriage, and that the police would have questioned why Claire was alone with Howard at his house to begin with, it’s a tormented secret Claire has carried with her for nearly half of her life.
Courtesy Roadside Attractions
Weitz once again blends drama with comedy quite well. The driving force to this Tomlin and Fonda onscreen together once again is Tomlin, and she steals just about every scene—whether it’s her banter or sharp dialogue exchanges, Tomlin shines throughout. She interrupts Howard’s eulogy to his wife of 51 years in front of the podium after she enters the chapel from a rear entrance. Evelyn also has her own tensions with Howard, which are later revealed in the narrative as well. Like at any funeral, there are many secrets and lies hiding in everyone’s closet. For Claire, it’s suppressed trauma, and for Evelyn, it’s repressed desires that were kept hidden for so long. Weitz pulls no punches with the story, and Weitz isn’t making this story about forgiving her wrongdoings. She is determined to get an apology, even if it means buying a gun and killing him if she has to.
Part buddy movie, part revenge comedy, Weitz generates laughs with the revenge, and it never feels absurd or silly. Even though it suffers from tonal shifts where it can’t decide whether it wants to be a dark comedy or a genuine drama, Ultimately, the trauma brought down her marriage with Ralph (Roundtree), her ex-husband. The only quibble with this subplot is that Roundtree delivers a wonderful performance, and the scenes he has with Fonda are terrific, but his character feels underwritten, where he feels more like an acquaintance than an ex-husband. Their interactions and exchanges feel more like those of people who just met each other, or possibly even a missed connection, than like those of two people who used to be married and shared their lives together.
Courtesy Roadside Attractions
Structurally, the narrative consists mainly of Claire and Evelyn trying to find a gun. Claire can’t buy a gun after a worker at the gun store informs her that you have to be a California citizen to buy a firearm. This leads Evelyn to try to get a gun from a fellow tenant at her senior living home, who promises to let her borrow his gun (which happens to be a flare gun) for four pieces of extra crispy bacon. Of course, you never really buy into the notion that Claire will follow through, but it will leave you wondering just how she will find closure with Howard. McDowell, who is often type-cast as playing the impenitent antagonist or jerk in films. He doesn’t believe he has wronged Claire or Evelyn, the incident is a lot different than Claire’s story, and he accuses Claire of memory loss and having shades of dementia. McDowell doesn’t play him as a caricature, rather, he brings some humanity to him in spite of his alleged misdeeds. During a confrontation between Claire and Howard at a fair with his daughter Molly (Catherine Dent) and grandchildren, as he confesses his love for his dead ex-wife, it feels genuine, and Weitz allows room for humanism, which is noble for a character that would rather feel one-dimensional in many other films.
Despite some uneven writing and flaws, there are many sharply scripted and directed scenes by Weitz and the small cast. There is a belief in this movie that one is never too old to find closure or to embrace life, and to always build enough courage, no matter what age you are. No matter how Claire and Evelyn’s pursuit concludes, deep feelings always live on. Sometimes certain people do such harmful damage that they aren’t worth forgiving, and we must accelerate our tenacity in finding our tranquility within. With that, you admire some of the writing of the script by Weitz, and you commend the performances by Tomlin and Fonda, who play characters that feel fresh, and the irregular allure of each of these artists is their own.
Moving opens in theaters Friday March 17th.