2023 may still be in its infancy, yet here comes the second release of a high-concept comedy starring old pals and beloved Hollywood icons Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, following last month’s senior citizen sensation 80 for Brady. Those expecting the usual raucous octogenarian shenanigans, however, would be wise to look elsewhere, as this duo’s latest feature, Moving On, inspires laughs only in dribs and drabs, the result of an essential tonal mishmash found in writer-director Paul Weitz’s script. The filmmaker is certainly no stranger to the land of dramedy, having helmed a number of respectable yet forgettable entries including In Good Company, Fatherhood, and Tomlin-starrer Grandma. But in tenor, Moving On is closest to the director’s one outright catastrophe, 2006’s American Dreamz, a dumpster fire that tried to satirize both reality TV competitions and post-9/11 anxieties, concluding with a suicide bombing played for laughs. Real provocative stuff.
Moving On is similarly “of the moment,” a comedy that wants to be both woke and topical, but whose desperation makes it feel like an artifact from a distant and unenlightened era. There’s also the matter of the plot itself, which certainly doesn’t lend itself to easy laughs. Fonda stars as Claire, an uptight yet effortlessly classy retiree who, as the film opens, is headed across the country for the funeral of a dear old friend. Yet Claire has more up her sleeve than just mourning, a fact made clear when, at the service, she informs her deceased friend’s husband, Howard (Malcolm McDowell), that she is going to murder him, sparking interest in fellow attendee and former confidant Evelyn (Tomlin). But what could inspire such a seemingly heinous — not to mention, you know, illegal — act?
At only 84 minutes, Moving On wastes no time in getting to the point, even as nothing of much interest ever happens, regardless of the sensationalistic hook of its plot. As it turns out, Howard had sexually assaulted Claire 46 years prior, leaving her a shell of the vibrant person she once was, ultimately dooming her marriage at the time, and making it impossible for her to form and maintain any sort of meaningful relationship with others. It’s certainly heavy material, and Weitz’s move is to try to offset it with a lot of painfully contrived jokes involving everything from the procuring of a gun through bacon cookery (don’t ask) to geriatric sexcapades. It ddidn’t seem like this needed saying in 2023, but the last thing the world needs at this moment is a comedy about the PTSD-laden trauma of sexual assault, and yet here we are, courtesy of the man who made American Pie.
The thing is, this material actually could have still worked, had Weitz pushed the humor into the darkest recesses imaginable, pitch black, dripping with acidity, and genuinely interrogative of psychology. As it stands, Moving On is too sunny by half, content to merely pat itself on the back for being topical yet failing to engage with its provocative themes in any sort of meaningful way. Most of the movie feels like Weitz simply working his way down a checklist of trending Twitter topics, whether it be the #MeToo Movement or trashy tales of true-life criminality. This is also a film that includes a completely superfluous subplot about a young boy who visits Evelyn’s independent living facility and likes to wear her clothes and jewelry, because Weitz is apparently nothing if not a most inclusive edge lord. He also presents homosexuality and interracial marriage as shocking realities in this 2023 film, so perhaps he isn’t quite as hip and progressive as he believes himself to be.
Fonda and Tomlin are at least reliably good, but even they seem stuck in neutral here, hamstrung by a script that mistakes good intentions for depth. McDowell, meanwhile, is written as such a one-note cartoon villain that it makes Fonda’s one-note characterization seem profound in comparison, further highlighting the inauthenticity that coats nearly every frame of the film. A shoutout is deserved for Richard Roundtree, who pops up as Claire’s ex-husband and shares such an easy and gentle rapport with Fonda that one longs for a movie focused solely on the two of them. At this point, such an endeavor would prove bolder and more novel than anything found in Moving On, which, it must be repeated, is a comedy about the decades-long fallout of sexual assault. Potential viewers would be wise to heed the titular advice.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 11.