Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin add some welcome danger to their shtick in "Moving On."
We've seen the icons paired a lot — way back in 1980's "9 to 5," in seven seasons of "Grace and Frankie" and just last month in "80 for Brady." There's always been a cuddly, aren't-they-adorable quality to whatever they're doing in their projects, almost as if they're not complicated humans but benign stuffed animals for whom it's clear everything will work out fine.
That's not the case with "Moving On," in which some of Fonda's first words are, "I'm going to kill you." Fonda's Claire is attending the funeral of a friend and she's speaking to the friend's husband (Malcolm McDowell), with whom she has some history that the movie will reveal. Plain-speaking Evelyn (Tomlin) also has some secrets, which she chooses to divulge in the middle of the funeral.
It's a sitcom-y setup, to be sure. No one behaves like the people in the movie do and, if they did, you wouldn't want to hang with them for even the brief, 85-minute running time of "Moving On." But you know who would be great to hang with? Fonda and Tomlin.
Writer/director Paul Weitz, who also made the Tomlin movie "Grandma," seems to have looked at the actors' recent projects and asked himself, "What haven't they been allowed to do lately on-screen?" Claire could almost be an older version of the Fonda character from "Klute": wary, closed-off and longing to connect but unsure whom she can trust. Claire doesn't get many of the jokes in the dark comedy but, like Fonda herself in talk show appearances, her earnest responses to strange situations are often amusing.
There seems to be a lot of Tomlin in her character, too. Her Evelyn doesn't care what anyone thinks, which is refreshing in a movie (even if it wouldn't be at a funeral). Tomlin's comic rhythms are as distinctive as anyone's but, even though she's been doing this for more than five decades, they haven't become overly familiar.
Is the script as good as its leads? No, it is not. Weitz gives Fonda the juiciest dramatic scene she's had since the 1980s, but he doesn't have the gumption to push her character into really uncomfortable territory. And Tomlin's sweet friendship with a young neighbor is a decent acting challenge — I can't recall seeing Tomlin work with kids before, but she's great at it — that does not add much to "Moving On."
Get these two octogenarian greats together in a scene, though, and the chemistry ignites. Fonda and Tomlin have become one of our great comic teams, and even if "Moving On" isn't a classic, who knows how many more opportunities we'll have to see them pushing each other's buttons like the old pros they are?
*** out of 4 stars
Rated: R for language.
Where: In theaters, Friday.