While the new comedy provides the opportunity for screen legends Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin to do what they do best, the tonal inconsistency causes the film to fall flat.
*This review contains spoilers for Moving On*
*Content warning: sexual assault, rape
Moving On tells the story of Claire and Evelyn (Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, respectively), two older women who are faced with quite the conundrum following the death of their friend. As Claire enters the funeral venue, she looks her deceased friend’s husband, Howard (Malcolm McDowell), dead in the eye and declares, “I am going to kill you.” In the moment, it seems like an off-color joke. It continues to give the appearance of a joke when moments later, Claire approaches Howard with a knife behind her back.
The rest of the film plays out like a joke, with a slew of dark humorous moments to boot. Claire shares her plans to kill Howard with her friend, Evelyn, who goes along with the plan with hardly any reservation. Evelyn even goes so far as to try and help Claire acquire the gun. Evelyn lives in a retirement home and befriends her neighbor’s grandson, allowing him to try on her jewelry and giving him a safe space to express himself. When the precocious child casually mentions that his grandfather has a gun, Evelyn breaks into her neighbor’s room and asks him to let her borrow the gun in a scene that reminds the audience why Lily Tomlin has been retained as a comedy legend for so long.
What ensues is a darkly humorous Thelma and Louise style film, with Claire and Evelyn setting off on their great revenge mission. The reasoning for Claire’s bloodlust is not directly mentioned, though it’s not difficult to deduce her motive. The viewer knows pretty quickly that Howard is not a good man, and his bad deed was something unspeakably dark. But the movie does not dwell on it, instead diverting the viewer to scenes of Fonda and Tomlin reminding the audience that their acting stamina will not be slowing down anytime soon, and neither will their wit. Sweet, if not a bit half-baked, subplots are thrown throughout, including Claire’s reconnecting with her “one that got away,” Ralph (Richard Roundtree). It’s lighthearted. It’s dark, but humorous. It’s an easy watch.
Until it’s not. In the climatic scene, Claire confronts Howard, and explains why she wants to kill him. She recounts, in graphic detail, the story of when Howard assaulted and raped her years ago when his wife wasn’t home and he was drunk. Howard, of course, denies the story, then turns the blame on Claire, reminding her she was drunk too and grasping for excuses. Claire tries to smother him to death, but is stopped by Evelyn.
As if the tonal shift of that scene were not jarring enough, the movie then cuts away to Howard leaving a parking garage at the same time as Claire and Evelyn. When he charges at their car, a bystander accidentally runs him over, killing him. The moment is played like it’s meant to be funny, but the gravitas of the situation make it hard to enjoy the humor.
And that is where Moving On fails. While a good story can include humor and drama, even in the darkest of circumstances, it’s achieved best when there is a balance. Claire’s need for revenge is played like a joke for most of the film, until it is suddenly far too real. The level of detail she uses when she explains her assault could potentially be triggering for some – she does not hold back. And, it makes the rest of the movie feel a touch insensitive. The movie is billed as a comedy. It’s treated as a comedy. A woman’s desire to kill her assailant is supposed to be a joke…until it’s not. The lack of cohesion makes the third act of the movie feel painfully jarring, and ultimately taints the rest of the film.
Of course, Tomlin and Fonda shine. Their comedic timing remains spot on, and their decades long friendship only provides for onscreen magic. Despite the fact that the climatic scene just really does not work, Fonda gives a strong performance throughout. Sadly, their magic is the only thing that works for this film.
While it’s hard to deny the cultural legacy of Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, and this film is certainly a reminder of such, Moving On is tonally inconsistent. So much so, that the power and stamina of the two legends can not rectify the unforgivable whiplash it provides.
Should be Considered: None
Release Date: March 17, 2023
Where to Watch: In Select Theaters
Lives in NC, where she is on a first name basis with the owners of her favorite pho spot.
Favorite Actress: Angela Bassett