Light laughs, dark drama don't mix well in awkward 'Moving On'
"Moving On" - ★ ★
This slightly cringey, comically tone-deaf movie doesn't quite qualify as a black comedy. More like a gray-beigey one that falls far short of its intended levels of hilarity and heartstrings.
"Moving On" stars venerable Hollywood veteran Jane Fonda as a wronged woman who has kept a secret for 46 years and has waited for her best friend to die before seeking out long-awaited revenge against her best friend's husband.
At her friend's funeral in California, she walks up to the new widower and bluntly announces, "Howard, I'm going to kill you. This weekend."
This begins Paul Weitz's "Moving On" on a daring and dicey premise, the kind that must be handled delicately, otherwise it will end up pretty much the way it does here: as a lukewarm series of hit-and-miss-jokes and botched opportunities to really skewer the dark side of human nature without alienating the characters.
Fonda plays an Ohio resident named Claire, a wounded soul with large-framed eyeglasses under a wave of snow-white hair. At the funeral, she reunites with her old, old pal Evelyn (Lily Tomlin), a saucy, caustic lesbian musician who quite often drops curmudgeonly one-liners.
She now lives in an assisted living facility with disappointing food. "I like eating cardboard," Evelyn tells Claire, "so, this worked out for me!"
Having spent seven seasons honing their repartee with each other on the series "Grace and Frankie," Fonda and Tomlin share an appealing, comfortable chemistry that constantly pulls their movie back from the brink of boredom, the result of a lack of crisp, comic editing to move "Moving On" onward.
Malcolm McDowell plays Howard, a fairly cold and caddish character who makes little attempt to counter Claire's perception of him -- or ours -- despite what appears to have been a relatively blissful, 51-year marriage for him and his late, latte-loving wife, Joyce.
When Claire tells Evelyn she intends to kill Howard, she instantly signs up to help.
But Claire has no plan.
For 46 years, she has waited for this opportunity to go Charles Bronson on Howard but never thought about how to actually do it.
So, she trundles over to a local gun shop to purchase a weapon, and Weitz passes on an opportunity begging for a blackly comic appraisal of using firearms as a solution for domestic issues, real or imagined.
"Moving On" moves in fits and starts with a series of random, add-on subplots, one involving bartering four strips of bacon for a flare pistol, and a touching one with Evelyn kindly supporting a young person confronting gender identity issues.
The serious magnitude of Claire's trauma is hinted at when her charming ex-husband Ralph (Richard Roundtree) presses her to reveal why she left him -- never suspecting that her encounter with Howard crushed her trust in men.
Light laughs don't integrate well with the darker elements presented in "Moving On," an awkward movie so frustrating that when Claire tries to smother Howard with a hospital pillow, we could be quietly rooting for her to succeed and end our disappointment.
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Starring: Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Malcolm McDowell, Richard Roundtree
Directed by: Paul Weitz
Other: A Roadside Attractions release in theaters. Rated R for language. 85 minutes