I thought 'Moving On' would be an 'old people do whacky stuff' embarrassment. Why it's not

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Opportunities for women who are older than, say, 25, are infamously rare in Hollywood. And what roles that do come along are often demeaning or artistically unsatisfying.

Another way of putting it: Did you see “80 for Brady?” Older women do whacky things. Hilarity ensues. Or not.

Thus, my expectations for “Moving On,” which stars Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin — who also appeared in “80 for Brady” — were not exactly stratospheric. But low expectations can fool you. So can two experienced stars (the pair also starred in “Grace and Frankie” on Netflix) who have an obvious chemistry together that glosses over many plot weaknesses.

“Moving On,” a dark comedy written and directed by Paul Weitz, isn’t a great movie by any means, but it’s a pretty good one. It’s also a relief to see Fonda and Tomlin play women whose age is not discounted, but is also not disqualifying. They aren’t asked to try to mine comedy from being too old to dance at a wedding or some such drivel.

Instead they play women with a lot on their minds — namely, murder and revenge.

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What is 'Moving On' about?

Claire (Fonda) shows up at the funeral of an old friend. So does Evelyn (Tomlin); the three went to college together. When Claire arrives at the service to greet Howard (Malcolm McDowell), the husband of her late friend, she drops a surprising bombshell.

“I’m going to kill you,” she says, matter of factly. And she means it.

Why? An event from Claire’s past destroyed her, ending her first marriage to Ralph (Richard Roundtree) and haunting her ever since. Killing Howard will be a form of justice and catharsis.

Much of the humor derives from Claire trying to find a way to kill Howard, with Evelyn supportive, but also the voice of reason.

Not surprisingly, they’re not particularly good at plotting a murder. Turns out you can’t just waltz in and buy a gun in California, to Claire’s chagrin. A stabbing plan gets waylaid before it can get going. Poison? It’s tougher than you’d think to kill someone.

Meanwhile Claire has dinner with Ralph and his family. Her presence comes as a surprise to his grandchildren, as well it might. But the obvious love between them puts into even sharper context the pain of the past that Claire has carried with her.

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Writer and director Paul Weitz gives Tomlin and Fonda a chance to shine

There is a mini subplot with Evelyn and James (Marcel Nahapetian), a boy who comes to visit his grandfather in the retirement community where she lives who struggles with acceptance. It’s hard to imagine a more accepting person than Evelyn, who is about as live-and-let-live as they come.

Except when it comes to Howard.

What transpired between him and Claire is not exactly a secret, but details are teased out throughout the film.

There are several confrontations between the two, but a climactic one is a showcase for Fonda, the best thing she’s done — or been given to do — in years. She dredges up the anger, the betrayal and the pain of something that happened a long time ago. Her performance is raw and unforgiving.

Fonda hasn’t won a couple of Oscars for nothing, you know. It’s nice to see her with a chance to show that she’s still got her acting chops. It’s also nice for Tomlin, McDowell and Roundtree, for that matter. They slip easily into their roles, decades of experience burnishing their performances.

They get to act like people. Not old people. Just people, period. It’s a welcome change from what we see so often, cloying roles beneath the talents of those involved. There’s no condescension here, just talent, and a lot of it on display. They can all still act! "Moving On" lets them.

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Where can I watch 'Moving On?'

In theaters March 17.

'Moving On' 3 stars

Great ★★★★★ Good ★★★★

Fair ★★★ Bad ★★ Bomb ★

Director: Paul Weitz.

Cast: Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Malcolm McDowell.

Rating: R for language.

Reach Goodykoontz at bill.goodykoontz@arizonarepublic.com. Facebook: facebook.com/GoodyOnFilm. Twitter: @goodyk. Subscribe to the weekly movies newsletter.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: 'Moving On' movie review: Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin defy convention