An alleged comedy starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin as two old pals who reunite for their friend's funeral with the intent of murdering her husband.
There’s been a spate of films recently featuring senior women in the lead roles, and I’m all here for it. It’s a huge group of people who often go invisible in movies or are shunted off to the background. They also make up a substantial portion of people still buying tickets to theaters, as studio honchos have finally figured out.
Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda, who co-starred in “80 for Brady” as well as the Netflix show “Grace and Frankie” a few years back, have teamed up again for “Moving On,” a comedy about two old pals reuniting for their friend’s funeral.
Alas, I should call it an alleged comedy. Despite some charming performances by Fonda and Tomlin, it can’t overcome the film’s creepy subject matter and atonal approach to what is supposed to be humorous material.
You see, the reason Claire (Fonda) and Evelyn (Tomlin) have come together is not to celebrate the life of their friend Joyce, with whom they formed an inseparable trio many decades ago. No, they have decided to murder Joyce’s husband, Howard (Malcolm McDowell.) In fact, they plan to do it the same weekend as the funeral.
Now there’s a surefire recipe for hilarity!
I suppose there’s a way you could make this premise funny. Maybe centered around how the two chums, who I’m guessing are in their 80s, are ridiculously inept at killing. You could have multiple scenarios in which their assassination attempts go awry, with Howard remaining stubbornly clueless as to their attempts on is life. Sort of a “Weekend at Bernie’s” type of thing, except the corpse is still walking.
We do get a bit of that, as they wander into a gun shop without even the slightest inkling about the hardware or the rules surrounding its purchase, and wind up with a flare gun as their weapon of necessity.
But no, writer/director Paul Weitz (“American Pie”) has Claire tell Howard in the second scene that she’s going to kill him. He seems bothered but not especially fearful. Evelyn initially tries to talk Claire out of it, but eventually joins into the plot, even going so far as to obtain weapons and create distractions.
Obviously, the burning question that comes to mind is why they want to kill him so bad. Howard seems a little haughty and full of himself — his eulogy for Joyce is mostly about himself — but by all accounts he was a loving husband, father and grandfather.
We get the sense the women feel he wasn’t the best match for Joyce, and it strained their friendship. But 50 years seems like a long time to hold a grudge. Plus, if Joyce really didn’t love Howard, why would she have stuck it out?
Of course, we do learn the reason for their murderous intent. I’m not going to tell you what it is, since that could get a bit spoiler-y. Suffice it to say that Claire’s hatred is well-earned and understandable. But it’s also something so dark and foul, it’s utterly incompatible with comedy.
Even worse, Howard is completely unaware of his transgression. To him, it was something that happened a long time ago and was a mistake in which he was just one participant. He’s probably delusional, but it seems to me that delusion would have to be pierced in order to make him a more contemptible figure.
Howard gives a speech where he rages at Claire for talking about old hurts when they should be sharing their grief for someone they both loved. It’s kinda… convincing.
First rule of comedy: you can’t make the patsy sympathetic. It also doesn’t help that Howard disappears for the entire middle of the movie, so we almost forget about the target of all these machinations.
Catherine Dent plays Molly, Joyce’s daughter who’s stuck in harried mother mode. She and Evelyn buddy up, talking about some old letters her mother has saved. Again, the tone is very weird here — how can you like the daughter when you’re planning to off her dad?
Richard Roundtree turns up as Ralph, a mutual friend who was actually married to Claire a long time ago. He’s a fairly recent widower himself, and the glances he casts her way indicate he’s interested in rekindling old fires with Claire. She takes a break from her plotting long enough to help stoke them.
I enjoyed the onscreen warmth between Fonda and Roundtree, and I couldn’t help thinking I wish the movie would drop the whole murder shtick and follow this story thread instead.
The plain truth is that “Moving On” isn’t very funny, or touching, or even coherent. It’s just a bunch of scenes with oldsters doing quirky stuff for its own sake.