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MOVING ON (2023) review

March 18, 2023


written by: Paul Weitz
produced by: Stephanie Meurer, Andrew Miano, Chris Parker, Dylan Sellers & Paul Weitz
directed by: Paul Weitz
rated: R (for language)
runtime: 85 min.
U.S. release date: March 17, 2023 (theatrical) 


Ever since 1980’s “9 to 5”, audiences have enjoyed seeing Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin together in movies. Granted, it took them quite a while to get back together, but they did reunite in 2015 for a seven season run on Netflix’s “Grace and Frankie”, and the recently starred in the Super Bowl comedy “80 for Brady” as half of a comedy quartet, released earlier this year. Now, in writer/director Paul Weitz’s “Moving On”, Fonda and Tomlin are back together in a story that revolves around some heavy subject matter from their past, albeit with a dark comedy tint to it. Granted, laughs are kind of what you expect from a Fonda and Tomlin pairing, but the movie’s strengths come from its dramatic elements. Too bad it’s not marketed that way.

It’s been over four decades since college friends Claire (Fonda) and Evelyn (Tomlin) have spent time together. Claire lives in Ohio with her adorable corgi, who she leaves with her daughter and grandchildren as she flies to Southern California to attend the funeral of another college friend, Joyce. However, Claire has ulterior motives for making an appearance at her friend’s funeral and that is to let Joyce’s husband, Howard (Malcolm McDowell), know that she has come to kill him on this particular weekend. That being said, she has no actual plan to do the deed. At the funeral, she reunites with Evelyn, who lives nearby, and the two catch up albeit in an awkward manner considering how much time has passed. Gradually, they each share their own secrets about their past related to Joyce, which serves as the motivation of Claire’s desire to kill Howard. Evelyn gradually agrees to assist Claire in her mission, at first just to make sure she doesn’t follow through with it, but eventually they both wind up helping each other deal with their own pain from the past.




It isn’t necessarily spelled out explicitly, but it’s not too hard to glean what exactly transpired back in the college years between Clair and Howard. Back when he and Joyce were starting out, she had asked Claire to check on him while she was out of town. Well, one drunken night he violently forced himself on her, and of course decades later he just considers it that one time when they fooled around. That’s absolutely not how she’s seen it all these years – she shares with Evelyn that to her it feels like yesterday – and what transpired was something she could never tell anyone, except her therapist, but especially Joyce. Now that Joyce is gone, she sees this as her time to rid this world of him.

Howard seems like a real scumbag, but people can change over the years, right? Well, there’s also that saying about old dogs too, which can pertain to personal growth and atonement, not just new tricks. Interestingly, during Joyce’s eulogy he does share how being with her changed him, he became more patient, kinder, less angry. Or has he? Weitz doesn’t really commit much screen time to Howard, save for him being a target of Claire’s vengeful wrath, but we do see how his daughter with Joyce, Molly (Catherine Dent) has some nice things to say about him, despite Howard still being something of an impatient curmudgeon.

The focus of “Moving On” though is less about this somewhat comical vendetta that Clair has, but rather if she can “move on” from having such pain take her such a hold on her. Evelyn does indeed help to offer Claire’s unplanned agenda some levity with a dose of reality. There are funny moments with Tomlin’s Evelyn, like when she shows up at the funeral just in time to interrupt Howard as he presents his wife’s eulogy. It’s a funny Tomlin bit that she nails with ease thanks to her subtle deadpan timing.



However, Evelyn isn’t just there for comic relief. We eventually learn of her own pain, both physical and emotional. She was an accomplished cellist, playing in an orchestra for years, yet now her body won’t cooperate thanks to arthritis, tendonitis, and bursitis. She now spends her days living in the independent wing of an assisted living facility in SoCal, which has its own limitations. We also learn, as does everyone present at the wake (which is oddly AFTER the funeral) thanks to her sudden announcement, that Evelyn and Joyce were lovers for about three years when they were in college. Embarrassed, Howard brushes this off as nonsense, which makes Evelyn incensed and motivated to assist Claire.

How the two friends go about preparing for Claire’s endgame provides “Moving On” with its more humorous moments. When Claire decides that shooting Howard would be the appropriate method of dispensing justice, she and Evelyn walk into a gun shop and just seeing Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin (because, let’s face it, their personas are loom over any characters they play) is quite comical, especially when the guy behind the counter asks what the purpose of the gun would be for and then he also personally connects with them as he shares that he’s had a hip replacement when the octogenarians complain about their arthritis and other ailments.

That scene adds to the light fare that Weitz weaves throughout the story. It should be noted that Claire gets shut down since she doesn’t have a California drivers license. It made me wonder how often that happens and glad that Weitz didn’t then incorporate an alternate/illegal method to procuring a firearm. This failed transaction leads to the pair getting their hands on (of all things) a flare gun and how that’s done and what comes of that is quite funny. That being said, there’s something about these funny bits that made me wonder if they SHOULD be funny considering what these women are actually trying to do.

The best moments in “Moving On” have very little to do with Claire’s supposed comical plan to off Howard, but rather moments of tenderness and honesty between friends. These friends are Everlyn and Claire, but they’re also Claire and Ralph, her first husband who shows up at Joyce’s wake. There’s an insinuation that Howard might have called Ralph, asking him to attend in order to mitigate the murderous intentions that Claire made known the day before. The highlight comes in the casting of Ralph, who’s played by Richard Roundtree, conveying a kindness, patience, and charm that is a welcome presence to the movie. The interaction between Fonda and Roundtree made me want a separate movie just for them. There’s a wonderfully warm moment at Ralph’s home, where he has a frank conversation with Claire – whom he’s invited over for dinner, where she meets his daughter and two grandsons – and asks her a question that’s gnawed him for decades: why did she abruptly leave him? Both actors absolutely nail this moment, but Roundtree communicates such convincing love and curiosity that really made me glad he was cast here.



It’s understandable why Weitz leans more on the comedy aspects of his story, but I would’ve preferred a more serious take on the matter considering what has been plaguing these two women for all these years. The dark humor just doesn’t always work and one subplot between Evelyn and James (Marcel Nahapetian), a young boy who visits his grandfather at the assisting living facility, doesn’t add much and winds up being kind of unnecessary.

Weitz has worked with Tomlin a couple times before – in 2013’s “Admission” and 2015’s “Grandma” – and has a knack for getting truly moving performances out of veteran actors (see “Being Flynn”). In the case of “Moving On”, there are some erratic moments that hinder the overall viewing experience. The most compelling aspects of the movie address regrets, trauma, and longing. In the end, the movie’s title isn’t just about moving on from past traumatic events in life, but also figuring out how to move forward.

NOTE: I’m so glad that at no point in this movie are any of these seniors getting high, since just about every movie that has seniors as the antagonists seems to have such an eye-rolling sequence.

RATING: **1/2

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