• Festivals

Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin Together Again in “Moving On”

Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin have long established themselves as an appealing comedy duo, as evidenced by their seven-year run in the titular roles in the hit series Grace and Frankie. Theirs is an onscreen relationship which dates to 1980, with their starring roles in the three-time Golden Globe nominated movie, 9 to 5. In their upcoming revenge comedy, Moving On, the heavyweight actors rekindle their chemistry, playing longtime friends Claire (Fonda) and Evelyn (Tomlin), who reunite for a friend’s funeral.

Upon returning home for the funeral, Claire has some unfinished business with Howard (Malcolm McDowell), the husband of her deceased friend. She threatens to kill him for actions dating back 46 years. During Claire’s threats of fire and brimstone, she reconnects with her ex-husband, Ralph (Richard Roundtree).

At the Toronto Film Festival, writer and director Paul Weitz (About A Boy, In Good Company, Fatherhood) is joined by Tomlin (who worked with Weitz previously in the 2015 movie Grandma), as well as Malcolm McDowell and Richard Roundtree.

Weitz talks about walking a thin line between the painful and humorous sides of the movie. He succinctly sums it up. “Lily has a line in the movie where she says, ‘People think I’m trying to be funny, but I’m just talking.’ And to me, there’s something of the essence of comedy in that. I think there’s a tightrope which I’ve fallen off at various times before, but in this case, there were guardrails, which are these actors,” he says. “And the genesis of it was really after working with Lily in Grandma – I met Jane and the two of them said, ‘Oh, we wish you’d write something for us.’ And so, I did.”

Tomlin goes on to describe the obvious chemistry she shares with Fonda. “We literally met formally on 9 to 5, although she had come to see me at the Ahamanson [theatre] when I was doing one of my one-woman shows. I was excited because I was a huge fan,” she recalls. “In fact, I wore a Klute hairdo for two years,” she chuckles. “And Jane swept in with a big cape on, very glamorous, and I was just beside myself, unable to speak. The next thing I knew they were doing 9 to 5 and she was casting me in it, and it just went from there.”

McDowell, whose ‘bad guy’ roles have run the gamut from A Clockwork Orange to Entourage, says of Howard, a man whose past catches up with him, “Sadly, I don’t think Howard ever comes to terms with it. Obviously, he’s a son of a bitch and he always thinks he’s the best guy in the room and can’t believe that this woman from 46 years ago didn’t open her heart and legs willingly [to him]. It’s not even part of his comprehension as a human being. He’s horrendous really.”

Howard’s sexual assault on Claire devastated her life. McDowell continues, “That’s very poignant and very apt to what’s going on now. And I think this is a beautiful way of doing it without slamming you over the head with a sledgehammer.”

Making a comedy with a serious message pertaining to sex crimes is a difficult juggling act. Says Weitz, “In a way the actors are my judge. With Jane, if there had been something in there that she thought was fake or not honoring the subject, I assure you she’s somebody who will speak her mind. And I think that it’s easy to think that something is of a particular time, like current or topical, when it’s not. All these sorts of roiling things in the culture have been going on for a long time.

“And look, I hope that I’m being humble and honoring people who have gone through horrible pain. And I hope that the cauterizing effect of the events of the movie and the idea that she can move on with her friendship, with Lily’s character and with her friendship with Ralph’s character, doesn’t seem fake,” he says. “But that’s about it. I try not to think about what the audience is going to think, because I can’t control that.”