Moment by Moment (1978) / Romance-Drama

MPAA Rated: R for sexual content and language
Running Time: 102 min.

Cast: Lily Tomlin, John Travolta, Andra Akers, Bert Kramer
Director: Jane Wagner
Screenplay: Jane Wagner

Review published February 20, 2006

Perhaps best known as the film John Travolta would make after Grease, Moment by Moment is an otherwise forgettable romance that offers only modest interest for romantic film lovers, but which proves painfully dull for just about anyone else.  Longtime collaborator with Tomlin (Short Cuts, Flirting with Disaster), writer-director Jane Wagner, Tomlin's partner professionally and personally, pretty much did Lily's career a disservice by creating this starring vehicle for her, which showed why the comedienne is better off at comedy than in being anything remotely close to a lead actress in a romance.  For all of its faults, the title is the best thing about it, as it is the best description of how you will feel every lumbering scene as it crawls slowly by -- moment by moment.

Travolta plays Strip, a teenage runaway that develops an infatuation with a rich older woman, Trish, following her to her beach home and conveniently appearing for conversation wherever she goes.  Succumbing to loneliness following her separation from her husband, Trish develops feelings of her own for the young man, although not quite to the degree that he feels for her.  She enjoys the moments she spends with Strip, but the difference in age and class has her feeling a sense of shame about their affair, which threatens to undo the romance that they both seek so desperately to continue, despite the difficulties.

There's almost an incestuous quality to the film, with Lily Tomlin providing a very motherly role to John Travolta's man-child.  Coincidentally, Travolta was just coming out of a tragic relationship with an older woman himself with actress Diana Hyland, who actually played his mother in the infamous television film, The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.  Compounding matters further, Lily also bears a striking resemblance to John's real-life actress sister, Ellen, and they are both around the same age to boot.  It's just not the sort of movie John should have been making at this point of his career for so many reasons.  Regrettably, or perhaps, thankfully, onscreen sparks didn't really appear to fly between the Tomlin and Travolta.

Perhaps the worst part about this misfire is the one thing that will attract most viewers to it, John Travolta's appearance.  Travolta's pretty-boy looks belie his drug-addict street urchin casting, and the fact that any woman, never mind a lonely and depressed one, would find him unworthy of even a casual sex dalliance proves to be a difficult proposition to swallow, particularly since he cavorts around in practically next to nothing in front of her.  Stalker he may be, but most women probably wish they had a stalker that looked like Travolta in 1978.

Moment by Moment was lambasted by critics and tanked at the box office, mostly for good reason, although it really doesn't merit its status as one of the worst films of all time.  It definitely isn't a good film by any means, but it does manage to be thoughtful from time to time, although the unintentionally campy material, along the mismatch in the actors, does do the momentum in whenever it looks like it might finally be going somewhere.  For every good moment there are at least three bad ones that follow, which makes Moment by Moment an excruciating viewing for anyone not willing to at least make fun of it for the duration.

Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo