My selection during the Toronto International Film Festival started with the comedic writer-director Paul Weitz’s film, “Moving On,” starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Malcolm McDowell, and Richard Roundtree.
The story centers on a man (Howard), played by McDowell, giving a eulogy at his wife’s funeral; a college friend of his wife, Evelyn, played by Tomlin. She makes a comedic, somewhat snarky entrance. A few minutes later, Fonda (Claire) gives a detestable stare while walking up to say hello to Howard; he gazes at her with astonishment and is shocked when she says, “Now that she’s gone, I’m going to kill you, and I’m going to do it this weekend.” Believe me, when I tell you this is not a spoiler, as Fonda proclaims this from the get-go. The entire film ends up being a comedy of errors of how she’s going to kill him and if that will eventually ever happen.
This is the second collaboration for Weitz and Lily Tomlin after 2015’s “Grandma,” the acclaimed road-trip comedy in which Tomlin’s character accompanies her granddaughter on a mission to obtain an abortion. “Moving On” contains themes of loss, aging, hurt, regrets, and I love are mixed in the film—one minute you’ll be laughing, and the next will bring you to tears—a thoroughly entertaining film with outstanding performances by all.
My Zoom interview took place with Paul Weitz on March 15, and to say I was delighted to meet the Academy Award nominee director/writer was an understatement. Our conversation centered on his recent film, “American Pie,” Jennifer Coolidge, and his experience working with his brother Chris Weitz, a writer and director.
Sarah Knight Adamson: Hey Paul Weitz, you started my Toronto Film Festival in September with a bang! “Moving On” was the first movie I saw, and thank you for that!
Paul Weitz: (Smiling) Oh wow, thank you for that.
SKA: I read an article, and I don’t even know if this is true, that you wanted to write a script for Lily Tomlin after “Grandma?” Could you please tell me the early workings of the script?
PW: Lily called me and said I’m sitting here with Jane Fonda, and we think you should write a movie for us. That stuck in my head. Then I had a random idea that they are at a funeral, and everyone’s coming up and giving their condolences to the widower; people are saying we’re so sorry for your loss, we love you, and then one of them says, “Now that she’s gone, I’m going to kill you. And I imagined Jane Fonda as I would be very scared if Jane Fonda said that to me. She also needs Lily’s help to do it, not in logistical assistance but in emotional help, and a re-kindling of their friendship.
SA: After watching Netfix’s “Grace and Frankie,” all seven seasons, it appears that they could almost be sisters in real life, I have three sisters, so I understand the relationship.
PW: When actors have their mics on, sometimes the sound person forgets to turn the sound off. There was one scene in a car just listening to them talk when we were not filming, and they were just chatting with each other. That was so fun for me, just listening to them talk, giving each other a hard time. They’d sing songs and talk about old actors that they love. It was joyful; they are like sisters, as if one of them flubs a line or something, the other one will sometimes be like, what are you doing? You ruined my next line, and why didn’t you come in? Then they’re very sweet to each other, but they’re like sisters. They give each other a hard time.
SKA: Oh my goodness, that is a fantastic story. I interviewed Malcolm McDowell in 2011. What does someone like him bring to your film?
PW: Malcolm is like the loveliest guy, and he is full of charm. And at the same time, because he’s played Alex in Clockwork Orange and has played villains like Caligula, it would have a good combination of being somebody who, on the surface of it, was charming. But in the back of your head, you’re like, what did that person do? They’ve done something terrible at some point. That’s actually what Jane Fonda was thinking as well. She had not met Malcolm in person before the movie, and she had “Clockwork Orange” in her mind. She asked me before we filmed if it was okay that she doesn’t meet Malcolm before her character meets him in the film.
Malcolm McDowell, “Moving On”
I said to Malcolm, listen; I’m going to keep you and Jane separate for the first couple of days, which I did. And then Malcolm, you know, said to me, well, she’s just glaring at me across the room whenever I catch her eye. (Paul laughs) Malcolm then said, you know, someone’s going to ask me, what’s it like working with Jane Fonda? I’m going to say I have no idea. So I asked Jane, how do you feel about talking to Malcolm now? And she went over and gave him a big hug.
SKA: How fun. Thank you for that. So, even though your film is so comedic, there are serious undertones to the film. What do you hope people take away from this film?
PW: I hope that they, first off, have a great time and, you know, I’ve seen it in front of an audience a few times now, and luckily the comedies play really well. I hope that they just feel love for the characters actually, and feel like it’s okay to talk about things. It’s, you know, one tends to feel like everything has to stay in its lane. You can either have a comedy or a drama that’s about something quite serious. But the movies that I love often mix the two.
SKA: “American Pie” is one of my favorite movies (both laugh), although it’s especially my husband’s (laughs). He wanted me to tell you that (laughs). He met Eugene Levy at a Critics Choice Awards dinner and was thrilled. No, he didn’t talk about “Schitts Creek” with Eugene. He talked about “American Pie” (Paul laughing). On the same note, I met Jennifer Coolidge in January and spent time with her, which was great. Oh my goodness, what a wonderful lady. She’s so kind and genuine. I mean, we had real girl talk, you know, and she was in so many of your films. Can you talk about Jennifer for a little bit?
PW: I mean, she’s utterly unpretentious and brilliant. If comedy were surgery, you’d want her to be your surgeon! She’s a little uncommon, actually, as I know that whatever I throw (in terms of acting), I’m going to find what I want. I’m so happy that she’s having this sort of, you know, big moment in her career because it’s so deserved. And she’s just like totally unexpected. She just kept believing.
SKA: How was it working with your brother, Chris? I would like to know about that and how that works. And I see it now; more directors are working together as brothers.
PW: As long as you remember, you must still be polite to each other. You gotta be more polite to each other than you otherwise would. You also have to be really grateful for what that person brings to the film. I mean, I’m writing something with him (Chris) now, and it’s like, I know I can have a crappy week and (laughs) and totally underperform, and there’s going to be some great pages that Chris has come up with. So that’s a great thing. But at the same time, it’s the friendship that is the most important thing.
SKA: I’ve always admired Jane Fonda and have told a few talents that she was the reason I had a third child as I read an interview in the late eighties, and someone asked her, “Do you have any regrets?” And she said, yes, I do. I regret I didn’t have more children. Oh, wow, I thought. I have two children and am contemplating a third. She sealed the deal for me. My first movie seeing Jane Fonda on screen was “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” I have followed her career and admire her so much. How is it working with just her?
PW: She’s really unusual in that she’s very transparent. I’d give a note, and occasionally she’d say, “Why do you want me to do that?” So, you know, she’d have a reason. She’s not trying to be difficult. She’s just genuinely asking why. And then, if you give a reason, she’ll say, ‘okay,’ even if she may disagree with it, she’ll do it. She’s lovely. She’s trying to find out what it is to be a human being through her work, and it’s a gift to be around her. Plus, she’s so good at what she does. I think she’s so, so good!
SKA: Oh, I agree so much. I’ve admired her for so many years. I’ve read her autobiography and other books.
SKA: Is there anything else you’d like to say about “Moving On?
PW: Just thank you so much for having me, and yeah, I hope people enjoy the movie.
SKA: I appreciate you speaking with me. Thank you so much, Paul—best of luck with the film.
Sarah Knight Adamson© March 15, 2023