Lily and Jane Get Their Revenge

‘Moving On’ is the best Tomlin-Fonda collaboration in decades

The latest entry in the Fonda & Tomlin comedy juggernaut is “Moving On”— by far their best since 9 to 5.

Laugh-out-loud funny? Check. Politically-savvy farce for the dark hospice set? Solid. There is also a poignant surprise in the wings.

“Moving On’s” great weapon is their director and writer, Paul Weitz, who provides the scathing dialog you’ll remember from his first hit, About A Boy.

 Next up, we have Jane and Lily, who’ve wrapped the longest-running series in Netflix history — Grace and Frankie— and begun their movie empire, releasing 80 for Brady two months ago.

MOVING ON ★★★★ (4/5 stars)
Directed by: Paul Weitz
Written by: Paul Weitz
Starring: Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Malcolm McDowell
Running time: 85 min

This flick is different— and not what it seems on the surface. You see, Moving On’s publicity says it’s an “Old Lady Buddy Movie”—leveraging Fonda’s superstar status.

They’ve teased the plot, revealing Jane’s character, Claire, determined to wreak justice on a brutal narcissist who derailed her life as a young woman. She pulls in her BFF, Lily Tomlin, as Evelyn— they’re going to make this sonuvabitch pay. We’re invited to soak in the fabled Tomlin/Fonda chemistry as they try and fail to nail Malcolm McDowell, the marvelous villain of the piece.

What’s to complain about?

I almost feel like a traitor to disclose more, but it’s a matter of giving praise where it’s due.

Fonda would be the first to tell you, she’s an ace at playing the straight man. The naive white lady on her quest for moral right! This is how Jane gets laughs, and it’s exactly how her father Henry played the same type, in 1941 screwball comedies like The Lady Eve.

The Fondas are the best Innocent Fools in the Hollywood deck, and the crazier the world you drop them into, the more delightful their predicament.

You need crazy to make Straight Men shine. You need absurdist genius. You need the Elixir of Dada, and that is where Lily comes in and OWNS it. There are not one, but two revenge storylines here. “Evelyn” wasn’t raped, she was robbed, and the denial that broke her life in two is just as devastating as Claire’s.

Tomlin breaks precedent: her character comes out as a woman with a sexual history. Even though Jane plays the hottie who canoodles with Richard Roundtree, it’s Lily’s performance as a lesbian who sacrificed everything, that makes the heart ache and demand redress.

I worked with Tomlin on one picture, Celluloid Closet, a bracing documentary about how classic film exploited and denied homosexuality. Everyone who worked on the doc was gay, but Lily made it clear in her agreement to be our film’s narrator, that she was not to be introduced as the “gay” emcee. Nope. We never see her on screen.

That was 1995, and her decision was common at the time. Stars you think of as lesbian-forever, like Ellen Degeneres, were not out. Gay men were a thousand times more public than women.

Lily deflected sexual attention. Although she was a stone fox in her Laugh-In era, she delighted in playing the non-sexpot roles: Ernestine, the shrinking housewife, the fed-up executive secretary, and Edith Ann the solid gold brat.

Her fans said, “Good for her, the feminist refuses to be a pin-up!” But it was more than that. Tomlin didn’t publicly introduce her sweetheart and writing partner, Jane Wagner, until the early 00’s after her mother passed away. “My mother would’ve died if shed lived to see me come out,” she told the British Telegraph in 2015. “Bless her heart, she was Southern, basically fundamentalist. But she was witty and sweet and kind and she adored Jane . . . that was a dilemma for me.”

Yes, Lily’s wife  Wagner is Jane One. Fonda says when she dials Lily, she chirps, “Jane Two, here.”

Tomlin and Fonda have told the film critics they begged Paul Weitz to write a script for them. And sure, he did. But Lily is Paul’s muse; he wrote the hilarious Grandma just for her.

Paul has been egging Lily on, in her dotage, to “go there”—to be a woman who’s viewed as desiring and desired. Meanwhile, Jane Fonda seeks the same glory for her friend: she loves Lily the cosmic comic, the dyke version of Richard Pryor who leaps dimensions.

Pryor, of course, made fun of his lust. He was vulnerable in his appetites. (And don’t miss the two of them steal a forbidden kiss  in Lily’s live TV special, Juke and Opal.)

Tomlin never gave sexual hunger the time of day, except in her keen observance that people will make asses out of themselves over their impulses, every time.  Hence, her third act is a surprise. “Moving On” lets us see Lily as someone who was once insatiable, and jealous, and wronged. —As someone who will smuggle sizzling bacon to a terminal heart patient in a nursing home just so he’ll lend her a firearm! After all, Lily Tomlin, my friends, is the lead in a revenge comedy caper; she has places to go!


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Susie Bright

Susie Bright is an author, editor, and critic known for her work at Audible Studios, The New York Times Book Review, Playboy, Jezebel, Salon, On Our Backs, Talking Points Memo, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Review of Books, Esquire, the Criterion Collection, as well as her contribution to The Celluloid Closet, Bound, The Virgin Machine, Transparent, and the Criterion reissue of Belle de Jour.

One thought on “Lily and Jane Get Their Revenge

  • March 29, 2023 at 4:43 pm



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