Film Review: Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in Revenge Comedy, ‘Moving On’

Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are at it again. Last year’s follow-up to the seven year run of “Grace and Frankie” was, “80 For Brady“, a whimsical quest to meet and ogle superstar footballer, Tom Brady. Even with the addition of co-stars Sally Field and Rita Moreno, the film landed with a thud at the box office. No amount of alchemy could squeeze comedy from a premise that thin. In “Moving On“, Paul Weitz’s Me Too tale of vigilante justice, the emotional and dramatic stakes are set at loftier levels. Enough to support the big gun acting acumen Fonda and Tomlin bring to a project.

Fonda’s character, Claire, has been rubbing against the raw edges of trauma-induced anxiety for decades. It’s not a stretch to believe she’d go gunning for a man who’d raped her almost fifty years ago. Intense and headstrong, wielding a well-seasoned recipe for revenge, she’s in search of someone to play Bonnie to her Clyde.

Enter Tomlin as wise-cracking sidekick, Evelyn. A world of backstory exists behind those weary, wary eyes. Evelyn isn’t happy to see Claire. It’s been decades. She’s got her life down to a science and she likes it that way. But she’s chill. Upon hearing Claire’s assassination aspirations, she folds quickly, impishly stating: “I can chat about that”. It didn’t take a lot of coaxing, and this ignites the plot – a destination murder, if you will – at an oceanside resort in southern California.

Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange, Mozart in the Jungle) occupies with gusto the role of Fonda’s intended victim, Howard. We know him well. Like Dabney Coleman’s well-defined office villain in Fonda and Tomlin’s, “Nine to Five”, he’s the guy everybody loves to hate. We can stretch credulity to accept the fate being planned for him. McDowell is tonally perfect, keeping the pitch of his angry histrionics low-key, matching the understated bandwidth set by the two star’s performances. 

Richard (Shaft) Roundtree, plays Claire’s first husband, Ralph. The sweetness of their present-day romantic interlude serves as counterpoint to Claire’s internal tug-of-war about how she will respond to his sexual entreaties. Something Fonda does better than almost anyone else in film is to convey the critical bend of a character’s will with minimal expression and maximum impact. Her screen time with Roundtree is a reminder of the uber-mature entanglement she shares with Robert Redford in “Our Souls at Night“.

The crime will be set in motion during a life celebration for the alleged rapists deceased wife. Both Claire and Evelyn had been the woman’s close friends. Her death allows them a guilt-free zone to move forward with their strategy. The clumsy planning and preparation provides some of the film’s finer comedic moments. But of course it would. These are the antics of wannabe octogenarian murderers. And though it’s Fonda’s single-mindedness propelling the plot forward, Tomlin’s Yoda-like wisdom helps us take the leap of faith necessary to believe this revenge comedy won’t careen off its unstable rails.

Once at the gathering, Claire gets to work immediately. Confronting her demons while shaking the hand of her attacker, she tells Howard: “I’m going to kill you. Now that she’s gone. I’m going to do it this weekend.” Her emotion-free delivery of the shocking threat might generate laughter, but it also leads us to wonder what sort of world we’ve wandered into. And that might be the problem. “Moving On” constantly shifts genres from black comedy to episodic melodrama, to ripped-from-the-headlines social commentary. As written by Writer/Director, Weitz, it’s sometimes a tough slog to sort through which film we’re watching.

The best buddy films take us down roads that provide opportunities for growth to its lead characters. “Moving On” is no exception. Claire and Evelyn are substantively altered by their diverse experiences on the road to assassination. We care about them. But in the end we’re force-fed a mashup of potential hilarity, instantly rendered flat by Weitz’s desire to wrap things up in a neat package. In a film fixated on the dark, the messy, and the complicated, a neat package is not the reward we expect, nor seek. Contemporary culture has grasped the platform of the Me Too movement. We can be trusted with a film that more deeply examines the motivations for revenge, while at the same time hitting subtle notes of irony, self-deprecation, and yes, wry humor.

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Photo by Chase Yi on Unsplash

2 thoughts on “Film Review: Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in Revenge Comedy, ‘Moving On’

  1. Stephen Weinberg July 3, 2023 — 1:39 pm

    Excellent review. Need to get on with seeing it. Well done.

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