“My other murder canceled this week, so I’ve got time.”
When Grace & Frankie, the hilarious Netflix sitcom starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin was coming to an end, the two actresses decided they wanted to work together again right away. On a whim, Tomlin called her friend, writer/director Paul Weitz, who had directed her in the underrated dramedy Grandma. The actress asked Weitz to write a movie for her and Fonda to star in together, which he happily did. A mere ten days after the end of their groundbreaking sitcom, the two started work on Moving On with Weitz at the helm. Now, fans of the two stars who were worried the actresses would have nothing worthy to do following their show’s end can rest easy thanks to Weitz, who gives both Fonda and Tomlin their best post-Grace & Frankie roles so far.
Moving On follows longtime friends Claire (Fonda) and Evelyn (Tomlin), who reunite at the funeral of another friend. When Claire sees her friend’s widower Howard (Malcolm McDowell), she announces her intent to exact revenge on him now that his wife has died. Recruiting Evelyn for assistance, the pair decide how to carry out their plan before they lose their nerve.
I liked it Moving On, I did. It’s a film that (mostly) works. The comedy, which is decidedly dark in nature, was on point, never going too far, but still managing to go further than one would expect. There’s also great pacing and some really good scenes featuring some of Weitz’s best dialogue, as well as a few genuine surprise turns which are bound to keep the audience on their toes. At its heart, Moving On is a movie about trauma, regret, and being faced with the past when it can no longer be avoided. These are all very real, palpable places to venture into and Weitz engages them best not through the use of sprawling monologues, but through the scenes in which Evelyn and Claire are left alone with their thoughts. It’s in these moments when the two women are faced with the memories of who they were and the realization of who they are.
If I said that I think Moving On mostly works, it’s because its runtime prevents it from reaching its full potential. At a zippy 80 minutes, we don’t get to know these people well enough for the level of emotional investment Weitz is asking of us. We spend time with Claire and Evelyn, for sure. Both women have revelations and it’s great seeing them being able to let those secrets out. But between the past and the present, the two have a lot to unpack and you have to wonder if Weitz was unsure if his film was veering too far into the drama side of things. The secrets each woman carries with her are very specific kinds of “heavy” and Weitz certainly is respectful of them. But there’s a feeling that he’d rather not linger on them too, which means that virtually none of the revelations that come to light hit the way they should.
It’s the performances that Make Moving on worth it, despite the problems it has. Because of its two leading ladies, the humor and heart of the piece shine through. Individually, Fonda and Tomlin succeed at making their characters feel like real women with pasts that are easy to imagine. Together, they’re dynamite. The bond, the shorthand; it all comes through. Their scenes together are easily the best and are further made better thanks to dependable work from McDowell and Richard Roundtree as Claire’s ex-husband in a sub-plot that also warranted more exploring.
I don’t usually end reviews by carrying on about the performances, but Fonda and Tomlin are SO good in Moving On, I can’t help myself. Anyone thinking they’re getting a reworking of the TV characters they helped make famous should think again. Evelyn and Claire are so unlike Grace and Frankie both in the way they’re written and especially in the way they’re played by these actresses. Moving On is at its best when it simply lets them do their thing. One thing that struck me while I was watching the film was the cinematography by Tobais Datum, which had me in a sort of trance throughout the entire movie. It’s stunning; especially for a modest film such as this. For me, it shows how much the filmmakers were in constant awe of these two legends during filming. Fair enough. They deserve nothing less.