Moment By Moment
A notoriously forgotten film from 1978, this classic romance between budding closeted homosexual John Travolta and happily constipated lesbian Lily Tomlin is one of the most passionate movies that features a dog named Scamp and a character named Dan Santini never to be released on VHS, DVD, or LD. Somehow after the success of Carrie, Saturday Night Fever, and Grease, Travolta made the decision to kickstart his habit of career killing every five years. The story, devised by Wagner and Tomlin to broaden their fanbase, concerns a young drifter named Strip (Travolta) who stalks an unhappily married (or perhaps just divorced, it’s never really made clear) and depressed woman (Tomlin) at her drug store, beach house, and vagina, before, like a mangy puppy dog, she finds his patheticness and lame attempts to get to know her by starting aimless conversations that she doesn’t respond to, endearing, and sacrifices the possibility of avoiding scabies for the rest of her life.
They begin an affair that interferes with her social life, attending art galleries with someone who looks exactly like your younger brother and who is clearly too pretty to be with you, is such a scandal. Initially she feels sorry for Strip, but she grows to appreciate his introspective whining about the unintelligible and mundane, and his cock, or maybe it was just the mini-Speedo he wears in every other scene.
That Speedo makes so many appearances because the middle section of the movie is mostly darkly lit sex scenes, unfortunately too dark to make out the shemales no doubt working their magic just off-screen. Also, the nudity, a fleeting ass shot by Tomlin is unfortunately brief, so those with their tissues ready will have to rely on their imagination, or watch that hot tub scene over and over, at least until that unrated version of The Incredible Shrinking Woman finally gets put out.
It is even more of a shame that we have to settle for so many sex scenes, because it interrupts the scintillating dialogue, where Strip ruminates on the pronunciation of salad nicoise (I think it’s pronounced Ver-sayce) when Tomlin feels sorry for him after his supposed friends ditch him and force him to sleep on the beach. The most mesmerizing moments of the film are at the beginning, where Strip follows Tomlin from the drug store (where she is trying to buy extra sleeping pills, something Strip later provides) to her car and regales her with a story about having been a valet at a party she held with her husband, and how, when her husband discovered a scratch on his car, she took the blame for Strip. As he concludes this epic tale, he offers, “I think about it a lot, because, I dig thinkin’ about it.”
Strip follows her home and proceeds to force his way into her life over a period of several days by preying on her sympathies (initially she is a cold fish and chooses to avoid eye contact with him). He drunkenly cries while detailing the struggles of his life as a runaway, how his best friend just got arrested and was subsequently murdered by gangsters (Dan Santini!), and how much he likes her dog as well as the stray he found on the beach. Her maternal instincts kick in (her son is discussed but never shown), showering Strip with towels and sweaters so he doesn’t “catch his death” on the beach, and offering him endless motivational speeches, usually comprised of “Oh, Strip.”
There are of course breaks in the action, with writer/director/Tomlin lover Jane Wagner providing a breathless action scene of intrigue and devotion. When Strip comes back to Tomlin’s house carrying a grocery bag while she has company over (Her real friends! They have money, how can they not be her real friends?), she pretends Strip is the delivery boy, causing him to take offense and go running back into the seedy LA underworld from whence he came. Tomlin and friend search high and low for him, inquiring into the depths of society, and finding the experience thrilling at the same time. This allows for Wagner to utilize her superb disco/muzak soundtrack (In interviews, Wagner often referred to this fusion of genres as either diszak or musco), which somehow equaled the high quality established by Travolta’s own real music career. These scenes are completely encompassing in ways that could only be described as, testicle quaking…
Moment by Moment is clearly the blueprint for every future soft-focus 70’s incest movie made by a major studio.