Producers: Andrew Miano, Stephanie Meurer, Paul Weitz, Chris Parker and Dylan Sellers Director: Paul Weitz Screenplay: Paul Weitz Cast: Jane Fonda, Malcolm McDowell, Lily Tomlin, Richard Roundtree, Sarah Burns, Amber Chardae Robinson and Vachik Mangassarian Distributor: Roadside Attractions
In 2015 Lily Tomlin and Paul Weitz collaborated on “Grandma,” an episodic road-trip movie in which the then-septuagenarian actress played an acerbic senior citizen trying to help her granddaughter find the money needed to get an abortion. Now the two join up again, and enlist Tomlin’s co-star from the hit Netflix series “Grace and Frankie” (as well as the recent “80 for Brady”) in a ragged, tonally awkward dramedy redeemed to a considerable extent by the stars’ rapport.
As in “Grandma,” Tomlin plays Evelyn, an aged, sharp-tongued lesbian. She’s a talented cellist whose arthritis has made it impossible to play anymore, and whose long-time partner has died. Though forced to move into an assisted living facility, she remains spunky and does not suffer fools gladly.
She’s reunited after many years with her erstwhile college friend Claire (Fonda) when they attend the funeral of a third campus pal (and Evelyn’s one-time roommate), who was married to arrogant Howard (Malcolm McDowell), a man they both loathe: Claire greets Howard at the reception by announcing her intention to kill him. and Evelyn, after interrupting his eulogy for his wife, declares at the wake that she was the dead woman’s lover. It’s hardly surprising that Howard and his daughter Allie (Sarah Burns) are outraged.
From this point the plot takes turns that vacillate uneasily between macabre, goofy and romantic. Claire asks Evelyn to help her get a gun to kill Howard, and Evelyn agrees. Claire also reconnects with her ex-husband Ralph (Richard Roundtree), now a widower with a grown daughter (Amber Chardae Robinson) and two precocious grandsons, and sparks fly again. (There’s a very chaste bedroom scene.) Meanwhile Evelyn negotiates with Walt (Vachik Mangassarian), a fellow resident at the home, for a gun he has hidden in his closet (it turns out to be a flare gun), even as she encourages his little grandson James (Marcel Nakapetian) in his penchant for dressing up in women’s clothes and his fondness for jewelry (habits his uptight parents deplore). She also decides to try to get back the letters she shared with Howard’s wife.
The women eventually confront Howard at a park where he’s having an afternoon with his daughter and grandkids. Claire finally accuses him of the conduct that has haunted her for forty years, and infuriated with his smug denials, takes out that flare gun. But fate intervenes not once but twice to ensure that justice is served in a decidedly ironic way.
There’s a somewhat lackadaisical air to “Moving On,” and both Weitz’s direction and Hilda Rasula’s editing are easygoing, giving the stars the opportunity to pace the scenes in their own way and deliver their lines as they wish. The other behind-the-camera contributions—Michael Wetstone’s production design and Tobias Datum’s cinematography—are similarly rough-and-ready, and Amanda Jones’s score doesn’t push too hard either.
The result is a patchy, off-kilter comedy-drama with some big laughs and a few oddly touching moments, propelled by the delicious chemistry between Tomlin and Fonda. McDowell makes Howard a genuinely obnoxious fellow oblivious to the harm he’s done, allowing viewers to accept what happens to him as justified. There are some nice moments from the supporting cast, including an amiable Roundtree and the avuncular Mangassarian; even the passersby do passable work.
At well under ninety minutes “Moving On” is more a cinematic morsel than a full meal, but thanks to Tomlin and Fonda the sweet-and-sour mix goes down pretty easily.