It’s no secret that Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin work well together. Throw in Malcolm McDowell and Richard Roundtree and you’ve basically got something for everyone of a certain generation. You’ve also got a good setup for a reliably gentle charmer about the trials and tribulations, but also the joys and opportunities for growth, of life as lived on the far side of the big 7-0.
That’s pretty much Moving On in a nutshell, making it a real glass half full/glass half empty kind of film. On the one hand, it undeniably has its moments of insight. On the other, it settles far too often for first-choice plot turns and gags so familiar you can pretty much call them out in advance, Rocky Horror Picture Show style. The fault lies not in the actors, who carry this film uncomplainingly on their backs, but in the underdeveloped screenplay and pedestrian direction by Paul Weitz.
Claire (Fonda) and Evelyn (Tomlin) are estranged friends who find themselves back in each other’s orbits when they attend a funeral of a mutual friend. We soon discover there’s some gnarly backstory present: before five minutes have elapsed, Claire informs the dead woman’s husband Howard (McDowell) that she’s going to kill him. At the memorial service the next day Evelyn informs everyone present that she and the dead woman were not just roommates, they were lovers.
Both story lines hold promise, but neither is developed to any satisfactory extent—we learn why Claire intends to kill Howard, but without any meaningful exploration of the event or of what it meant in their lives going forward (apparently quite a bit for one, virtually nothing for the other, but that’s the shorthand version). Similarly, we learn that Evelyn spent most of her life married to a woman, but this fact is simply said rather than serving as an opportunity to explore what that would have meant for two women to remain committed to each other while the societal status of their relationship changed remarkably. Claire also reunites briefly with her ex-husband, Ralph (Roundtree, oozing charm and sophistication), with whom she broke up years ago without much in the way of explanation. The reason for that breakup is not hard to intuit, but the film’s failure to explore it is yet another missed opportunity.
Moving On, despite its sometimes weighty subject matter, is a mostly light-hearted affair. That’s not a problem per se, but the film’s persistent choice to go for laughs, and rather unoriginal laughs at that (Old people are terrible drivers! They love bacon and will sneak it at every opportunity, no matter the consequences to their health! And they don’t understand the difference between a gun that shoots bullets and one that shoots flares!) meshes uneasily with the more serious content. There are several potential subplots that don’t go anywhere, the most promising one involving James (Marcel Nahapetian) the grandson of one of Evelyn’s neighbors, who has an affinity for jewelry and other things traditionally identified as feminine.
Writing this review makes me feel like a parent telling a wayward child “I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed.” While I do have a lot of criticisms, this was also a really fun movie to watch. And you can’t beat the cast, particularly if you’re old enough to remember when they were young superstars (Klute, Shaft, and A Clockwork Orange, starring Fonda, Roundtree, and McDowell, respectively, were released in 1971, while Tomlin had been a regular on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In since in 1969 and made her film breakthrough in Nashville in 1975). Ultimately, my complaint is not that Moving On is a bad film so much that, with a little time and effort applied appropriately, it could have been so much better. | Sarah Boslaugh