Review: 'Moment By Moment' You'll Ask... Why?

by Frank J. Avella

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday September 3, 2021

There have been many head-scratcher couplings in cinema history, but after watching "Moment by Moment" again — this time via a gorgeous, pristine release from Kino Blu-ray — I have to say that even pairing up Valerie Perrine with the Village People in "Can't Stop the Music!" makes more sense. In the "What the Hell Were They Thinking?" category, this tops the list!

Travolta was hot off his Oscar nomination for "Saturday Night Fever" as well as the smash musical "Grease." Tomlin was a great TV and stage success who received an Oscar nomination for her very first film, Robert Altman's "Nashville," and had just gotten terrific reviews in "The Late Show." But why bring them together?

How about I list the Top Five reasons why "Moment by Moment" is so bad that it must be seen!

Firstly, the two leads, Lily Tomlin and John Travolta, look like — well, take your pick: Siblings? Mother and son? And that makes the intimate moments truly cringe-worthy and rubber-necky.

Secondly, our stars have absolutely no chemistry. None. It's almost excruciating to watch them try and create it. And then it becomes hilarious, when they have to bring dogs into the scenes to have some kind of connection.

Thirdly, the script is atrocious. It sounds like it's been improvised by the cast of "Gilligan's Island" or "Jersey Shore" — not written by one of our best playwrights (Jane Wagner). "May I use your ocean to sober me up?" Strip asks. Strip! Yes, the Travolta character's name is Strip — and we're supposed to take him seriously. By the time Tomlin's character, Trish, says to Strip, "Why don't you take off those wet clothes," I found myself hitting pause, I was guffawing so much.

Fourthly, and sadly, Wagner, who also directed, has little sense of timing. The scenes just lay there. The film could have been called 'Hour by Excruciating Hour.' She would never direct another film.

Finally, though, let's chat exploitation. It is nice to see a male as the camera's object of desire. Travolta cockily struts around in his black bikini briefs, but where's the nudity? Did he have some clause in his contract? (His next film was supposed to be "American Gigolo," but he pulled out. Could he have been nude-phobic? Hmmm?)

Okay, in the no-plot here synopsis, Lily is Trish, a rich, uber-lonely, middle-aged lady on the verge of a divorce. Johnny T, as Strip, bursts into her life all overly-flirty and stray-doggie like. Lily is forced to act snooty and restrained when you just want her to let loose. Johnny T acts as if he's still in his Vinny Barbarino ("Welcome Back Kotter") chair. He overplays his lack of sophistication. She overplays her affluence and aloofness. Finally, after way too much time, they hook up. Let the camp take over.

So, what does the film do right? The photography, shot by the extraordinary Philip H. Lathrop ("They Shoot Horses, Don't They?"), which this Blu-ray edition captures exquisitely.
Lee Holdridge's jazzy score, and the cool title song, are also highlights, via a good sound transfer.

We all know from "Nashville," "Nine to Five," and "Grace and Frankie," that Tomlin is a brilliant actor and a national treasure, so she's allowed a misstep. Heck, she's allowed twenty, but really, this is her only one.

Travolta is different. He's never really showed much range past his Tony/Danny/Vinny trifecta, and even Vinny ("Pulp Fiction") is an aging Tony/Danny combo, so maybe Johnny T shoulda gone to acting school.

DVD Extras Include:

  • New audio commentary by film historians Lee Gambin and Sergio Mims, with Maya Montanez Smukler (author of "Liberating Hollywood: Women Directors & the Feminist Reform of 1970s American Cinema")
  • 3 Radio Spots
  • Theatrical Trailer


    "Moment by Moment" currently available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.

    Frank J. Avella is a film and theatre journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He also contributes to Awards Daily and is the GALECA East Coast Rep. Frank is a recipient of a 2019 International Writers Retreat Residency at Arte Studio Ginestrelle (Assisi, Italy), a 2018 Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship, a 2016 Helene Wurlitzer Residency Grant and a 2015 NJ State Arts Council Fellowship Award. He is an award-winning screenwriter and playwright (CONSENT, LURED, SCREW THE COW, FIG JAM, VATICAN FALLS) and a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. https://filmfreeway.com/FrankAvella https://muckrack.com/fjaklute